Navy Ships Repel Bacteria, Thanks to Shark Skin

Ever wonder how sharks stay so squeaky clean, while whales and other sea creatures attract barnacles and other critters? That smooth skin inspired Sharklet Technologies, which based a new bacteria-busting film on it. And the Navy's going to put it on their boats.

Researchers have been designing products inspired by or flat-out aping mother nature for years, a process called biomimicry. Sharklet Technologies is the latest to employ biomimicry, having studied the pattern of shark skin and printed it on a thin film in order to repel smaller bugs—bacteria.

Popular Science notes that the 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.

The Office of U.S. Naval Research is just one partner using the technology, having announced new hull coatings for Navy ships based on the substance, which should cut fuel use and protect the environment.