Learning from nature has become a main driver for Sharklet Technologies.
The company develops bacteria resistant surfaces based on the texture of shark skin. Danish Design Centre has interviewed the founder of the company, Anthony Brennan.
How do your products prevent bacteria from growing?
“Sharklet products are patterned with a distinct microscopic topography comprised of raised structures forming a diamond pattern. The height, shape and interrelated nature of these features creates a surface that bacteria simply find inhospitable for survival and growth. Unique to Sharklet, it is the textured surface alone that disrupts bacteria’s ability to survive, not antimicrobial agents.”
Which kind of diseases can the products prevent from being spread?
“Sharklet has shown to be effective against many Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacterial strains, including clinical isolates, in different media and flow conditions, e.g. Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA, VRE, and E. coli.
We have chosen to test against these specific bacteria because these are the microbes most prevalent in hospital environments. We continue to evaluate the pattern’s effectiveness against other pathogens that impact environments and human health, as well as microbes associated with specific device-level infections.”
Left picture: Texture from Galapagos shark skin.
Right picture: Bacteria resistant texture on Sharklets products. The width of each diamant formation is approx. 1/5 of a human hair.
How did the idea to use properties from sharkskin for the prevention of deceases come about?
“The initial aim of my research was not the development of an antibacterial surface technology. In fact, Sharklet was discovered via a seemingly unrelated problem: how to keep algae from coating the hulls of submarines and ships. I was solicited by the U.S. Office of Naval Research to identify new antifouling strategies to reduce use of toxic antifouling paints and trim costs associated with dry dock and drag.
“… the textured surface alone […] disrupts bacteria’s ability to survive, not antimicrobial agents.”
Based on some initial experiments, I was convinced that using an engineered topography could be a key to new antifouling technologies. This became clear upon watching an algae-coated nuclear submarine return to port while visiting the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Oahu in 2002. The submarine was strikingly similar in appearance to a whale moving slowly into the harbor. This observation resulted in a discussion on the topic of slow moving marine mammals that do not readily collect microorganisms on their skin. The only animal identified with that met this criteria was the shark. Following identification, I was interested to understand what properties of sharkskin contribute to the difference in adhesion.
“Sharklet was discovered via a seemingly unrelated problem: how to keep algae from coating the hulls of submarines and ships.”
An actual impression of sharkskin, or more specifically, its dermal denticles was taken in an effort to understand these properties. Examining the impression with scanning electron microscopy it was discovered that sharkskin denticles are arranged in a distinct diamond pattern with tiny riblets. The presence of these diamond-shaped dermal denticles is unique to sharks in comparison to other slow moving marine animals and is key to the micro-organism resistant properties of sharkskin.”
Which products are presently provided with the surface, and in which areas do you expect your knowledge can be used in the future?
“Currently, Sharklet sells one product in the form of adhesive-backed acrylic films patterned with the Sharklet surface. These films can be purchased for application in a wide variety of high-touch, bacteria-prone surfaces where bacterial attachment and survival is a large concern. Hospitals and other healthcare settings are a primary target to combat hospital-acquired infections.
In addition, Sharklet is currently working to incorporate our proprietary micro-pattern into a number of different medical devices that reduce bacterial colonization associated with device-related infections. We are also working with development partners on a host of consumer products that feature the Sharklet technology and make many of the products we use everyday more hygienic. We anticipate that the Sharklet technology will continue to impact a number of diverse industries into the future.”
More info on Biomimicry
The interview was made in connection to the conference “Naturens Design“, an afternoon conference by Danish Design Center in late august 2012
About Maria Hørmann
Maria is editor of Hello Materials Blog and Project Manager of the Danish Design Centre’s exhitibion team. She follows closely the development within the environmental area, and has a broad, professional knowledge of materials.
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