Getting the Skinny on Shark Skin

From Issue: Discovery 9/1/2019

Several years ago my family visited an aquarium. There was a huge, open tank that held scores of rays and small sharks. The workers let you pet the backs of these fish as they swam by. Just looking at a shark, you might think that it would have smooth skin, but that is not the case. When I touched the backs of the sharks, I felt a very rough surface that resembled sandpaper.

Shark skin is rough because it is covered in tiny scales called dermal denticles. These denticles form tiny ridges and valleys. Scientists have discovered that these amazing skin features have remarkable qualities. First, they alter the flow of water around the shark and allow it to glide more smoothly through water. By copying this design (using biomimicry) researchers were able to create Olympic swimsuits that had similar denticles. These swimsuits were so effective at increasing swimmers’ speeds that it is no longer legal to wear them in most major swimming competitions. (lsurus2) 2019 CC-bysa-3.0

Furthermore, the shape and features of denticles discourage parasites and bacteria growth. This discovery has led to several interesting inventions. One company produced a plastic that has features similar to shark denticles. The shape of the plastic makes it so that germs such as E. coli and Staph do not grow on it for days or weeks. This technology could be used in hospitals and schools where there are lots of germs. Another company made a special paint that can be used on ships to help keep barnacles off and to make them move more smoothly through the water.

Brilliant scientists spend thousands of hours studying shark skin. They take their findings and try to mimic (or copy) the design to make products that people can use. Often, their copy of the design is not nearly as efficient at the design in nature. So, what does that tell us about nature? It shows us that the God Who designed the natural world, and the shark with its amazing skin, must be much more intelligent than humans. Indeed, “every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God” (Hebrews 3:4).


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