Did you happen to catch the CBS Sunday Morning piece by David Pogue “How Shark Skin May Help Save Lives”?
Turns out nothing grows on a shark’s skin. Not barnacles. Not bacteria. This is why biomedical engineer Tony Brennan, University of Florida, is studying shark skin.
Initially, Brennan studied shark skin as a way to help the Navy solve the huge and expensive problem of barnacle buildup on their ships.
When he studied shark denticles under the electron microscope, he discovered why.
"I said, "Wow!, That shark pattern, I'd never seen it before,'" he said. And he believes that has something to do with no bacterial growth.
Brennan wondered if he could re-create the shark skin surface on plastic sheets.
"Sharks' denticles are set up like a diamond pattern," he said, showing Pogue a clear plastic sheet he called a Sharklet, which also had a diamond pattern. Its microscopic pattern of ridges mimics the denticles of shark skin. (photo credit)
And when you stick it on ships, sure enough - NOTHING GROWS.
Dr. Shravanthi Reddy, director of research for Sharklet, is testing Sharklet to see if it can repel bacteria the way shark skin repels algae and barnacles.
Two pieces of plastic - one smooth, one patterned with Sharklet - are subjected to bacteria and incubated for 24 hours.
The electron microscope reveals the astounding results. The plain plastic is covered with a bacteria film - "Just these big clumps of bacteria all piled up on one another," Dr. Reddy said.
And on the Sharklet surface? "You might see one or two cells, but you don't see that big clumping the way you see it on the smooth surface," said Dr. Reddy. "What's really interesting is that there are no chemical differences between the surfaces. It's the same material. No differences, other than the physical shape."
If Sharklet really works, it could be used to cover many of the ordinary surfaces in a hospital and doctors office -- bedside tables, door panels, stethoscopes, and as Dr. Reddy notes
"Those wristbands, have you ever seen anyone clean those wristbands?" said Dr. Reddy. "Never, right? And they're on the patient the whole time they're in the hospital."
As a way to fight community based MRSA and flu, it could be used to cover gym surfaces, desks in schools, play grounds.
The topic is to be explored further in tonight in the PBS "Nova" series, "Making Stuff."