How Can Sharks Keep You Healthier?

By Doug Studer, CEO and Biomimicry 3.8 Specialist, Deskey Branding

Amid the pandemic, many of us are hyper-aware of keeping the environments in which we live and work clean and healthy. Perhaps this is nowhere more apparent than in doctors’ offices and hospitals. Besides viral infections, microorganisms constitute a major threat as they harbor large numbers of pathogenic bacteria. Up to 80% of bacterial infections in humans are the result of biofilms — communities of microbial cells. These films are present on skin and other surfaces and are multi-drug-resistant or even pan-resistant, leaving few treatment options available for infections.

In nature, creatures that move through the water accumulate all sorts of debris like algae, barnacles, seaweed and other bio-fouling organisms that impede swimming efficiency. Except — cue the Jaws soundtrack — sharks. Sharks stay clean despite moving slowly through the water because their skin is covered with dermal denticles — basically small teeth in a flexible layer. These microscopic denticles have a ridged pattern that helps sharks fend off microorganisms. This evolved structural adaptation keeps the debris from hitching a ride, and the ridged pattern requires too much energy for bacteria to colonize as they seek the path of least resistance.

Inspired by nature, a company called Sharklet Technologies created films that microscopically mimic the patterns found on sharkskin to protect humans. These films, depicted in the logo above, create bacterial inhibition on high-touch surfaces, and not just in healthcare settings. Films can be applied in restrooms, on sales counters or on any frequently touched bacteria-prone surfaces where growth inhibition is desired. Like a shark’s skin, the Sharklet micropattern keeps biofilms from forming because colonizing on the patterned film requires too much energy. Organisms simply find an easier place to grow or die from the inability to connect with other bacteria.

Sharklet has demonstrated success in inhibiting the growth of well-known microbes such as E. coli and MRSA and many other microbial species that cause illness and even death. And because it is a structural application, results are achieved without the use of antimicrobial agents, thus without the creation of even more resistant super-bugs.

Would anyone have believed, a generation ago, that an antimicrobial surface could be effective simply by design? Probably not, but that’s the power of biomimicry, a practice that adapts strategies found in nature to solve human design challenges. It’s the focus of our work at Deskey BluEarth, where we combine that natural inspiration with 90 years of branding and design expertise to make world a friendlier, more sustainable home for all of us.

So, while in Jaws they may have needed a bigger boat, thanks to nature, microscopic raised ridges do the trick in fending off much smaller — but much more deadly — creatures.

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