Natural Advantage

Posted on Posted in Articles, Research


Though modern technologies may seem incredible, humanity can learn a lot from nature, which has evolution on its side.

Nature has created many miraculous things, but humanity has added a few inventions of its own. Or has it? Scientists at the University of Cambridge recently discovered something unexpected in nature: a cog mechanism with an observable function. The gears appear in the issus nymph, the adolescent stage of the European hopping insect with opposing cogs and interlocking teeth in its hind legs. The intermeshed joints allow the insect’s legs to synchronize when jumping; thus, “the skeleton is used to solve a complex problem that the brain and nervous system can’t,” said lead author Malcolm Burrows in a university press release.

Called the “first observation of mechanical gearing in a biological structure” by the university, the issus reminds us that what might appear to be humankind’s most original ideas probably lurk somewhere in nature’s archives. We simply need to look more vigorously. “We usually think of gears as something that we see in human-designed machinery, but we’ve found that that is only because we didn’t look hard enough,” said Gregory Sutton, who coauthored the study published in Science.

Read more of Blaine Brownell’s article “Natural Advantage” in Architect magazine.

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