Biomimicry in Medicine: Sharkskin-Inspired Material Stops Bacterial Breakouts

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A shark swimming in the ocean.

Julian Gunther / Getty Images

Sharklet Technologies, a Florida-based biotech company, has figured out a way to capitalize on shark skin - specifically on the way parasites and bacteria can't stick to sharks. The trick is in the pattern of the skin's surface. Scientists have figured out how to print the pattern onto adhesive film, which wards off bacteria and is ideal for use in places like schools and hospitals where germs are easily spread. Popular Science reports, "[T]he film, which is covered with microscopic diamond-shaped bumps, is the first "surface topography" proven to keep the bugs at bay. In tests in a California hospital, for three weeks the plastic sheeting's surface prevented dangerous microorganisms, such as E. coli and Staphylococcus A, from establishing colonies large enough to infect humans."

With the concern over the spread of H1N1, as well as general concern about staph infection and other bacterial diseases spread rapidly in hospitals, this material could offer an incredible solution. Obviously a three week test in one hospital isn't enough to verify that it actually works. But taking a close look at an animal with a known history of being able to avoid bacterial and parasitic infection is a great place to start.

CEO Joe Bagan states, "We think they come across this surface and make an energy-based decision that this is not the right place to form a colony." And PopSci points out that because it doesn't kill the bacteria, the risk of microbes evolving resistance it is slim.

Sharks are one of the oldest creatures on the planet and they've evolved to be essentially perfect in many ways. Their skin has also been inspiration for more aerodynamic cars and also famously for swimsuits for Olympic swimmers. And with biomimicry playing a role in the medical field already - bone superglue inspired by worms being just one example - it's no surprise that sharks could also be inspiring in the medical field as well. Yet another reason why the threat to their continued existence in the oceans is such a dire concern, and why practices like shark finning need to be eliminated - who knows what other amazing secrets they might hand over to us.