Whether inside or outside their bodies, or completely separate from them, living things of all kinds create structures that must be reliable and make efficient use of resources.

Living systems are subject to many forces and have strategies to minimize the impact of those forces. However, when a living system is stressed beyond its ability to support a weight or load, it can fatigue, buckle, or deform. Structural failure can cause the living system to fall apart or collapse, which can ultimately result in death or reduced ability to reproduce. Living systems prevent complete structural failure using strategies that minimize damage from the specific type of force that causes the failure. For example, a tree subjected to heavy loads of wet snow must minimize the damage caused by forces like compression and tension. It does so by having a composite structure, flexible limbs, and increased support at the base of the limbs.

Plants, animals, and others deal with the same physical stresses, but have developed stunningly diverse methods for dealing with them. What could we learn from each of them?