Cartoon shark jumping in front of sunset

Shark skin inspires bacteria-killing surface

Image credit: Dreamstime

Researchers based at the University of Massachusetts have taken inspiration from President Trump’s least favourite animal to develop new antibacterial surfaces which could be used to help fight bacterial infections.

The ancient, predatory fish made headlines in January when Stephanie Clifford (better known as Stormy Daniels) alleged in an interview that President Trump is “obsessed” and “terrified” by sharks, leading to a surge in donations to shark conservation charities.

Now, shark fans have more to be delighted about.

Shark skins are entirely covered by a type of diamond-shaped scale supported by spines, which feel as rough as sandpaper when stroked backwards. When swimming, the movement of water past the shark’s body causes these scales to be flattened, reducing water resistance and allowing the shark to move more swiftly through the water.

This unique skin was used as the inspiration for a surface developed by researchers at the University of Massachusetts named ‘Sharklet’. Sharklet, which can be printed with a polymer and ceramic composite, is patterned with the diamond-like texture of real shark skin. This reduces the ability of bacteria to adhere, although long-term use can still result in the accumulation of bacteria. This makes it inappropriate for use in situations in which dangerous infections could spread, such as in hospital wards.

In order to destroy the bacteria, the team of Massachusetts researchers tried adding nanoparticles of titanium dioxide to the material. With the addition of a small amount of titanium dioxide, the surface’s performance significantly improved. It reduced the attachment of E. coli by 70 per cent compared with before and when combined with exposure to ultraviolet light, killed 95 per cent of E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus.

This nanoparticle-infused Sharklet could be scaled up for mass production and used as part of the ongoing battle against bacterial infections, which (according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) cause 23,000 deaths in the US every year.

Bacterial infections are typically treated with antibiotics, although the over prescription and misuse of antibiotics is leading to a crisis in bacterial resistance. The use of antibacterial materials – such as Sharklet or self-disinfecting textiles – could help by reducing the spread of bacterial infections in hospitals and other environments.

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