Friday, March 13, 2015

Health Benefits of Sharklet Biomimetic Technology

The field of biomimetics is a growing area of engineering and innovation for health, environmental, and economic improvement. Biomimicry is the modeling and designing of new technologies after processes or physiologies that are present in nature. Currently several investigations of organism toxins, secretions, and physical properties are being done to enhance medicinal technologies. One technology that has been developed and increasingly implemented in hospital and clinical settings is the Sharklet micropattern technology.

Sharklet is a synthetic model of shark skin with the hopes of creating a surface resistant to bacterial colonization and growth. Shark skin consists of dermal denticles, small tooth-like projections that help increase hydrodynamics, reduce drag, and prevent microbial colonization. The goal for the Sharklet technology is to model the denticle pattern and hopefully reduce bacterial growth in high contact areas to reduce the risk of passing on pathogens to patients and health care workers without the addition of potentially toxic chemicals.

One study decided to investigate the efficacy of the Sharklet technology on reducing the growth of methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) compared to smooth control surfaces and antimicrobial copper, another antibacterial growth application also being implemented in hospitals and clinics. They grew and cultured the bacteria in lab and replicated three different application assays to mimic the possible real-world scenarios: spray inoculation assay, immersion inoculation assay, and touch transference inoculation assay. The spray assay was to replicate transferral by sneezing or diffuse bacterial spread. The immersion assay imitated high concentration, direct contact, and touch transference was to model bacterial translocation via health care and patient contact. The mass and number of colonies were calculated, and microscopy analysis was used to compare bacterial colonization and survivorship amongst the tested and control assays. Three replicates per surface type were taken and repeated at least three times. Results underwent log transformation, log reduction, t-Test and ANOVA statistical analyses in order to determine significance among samples, strains, and surface types.

The results of the experiment were consistent with predictions of vastly reduced bacterial colonization on the Sharklet micropattern surfaces. The MSSA strain showed a significant 99% decrease in number of organisms, and the MRSA also showed a significant reduction by 98%. The study also looked at organism persistence on the spray inoculation and immersion assays. Again, MSSA and MRSA both showed visibly significant reductions in organism persistence when compared to the smooth control surfaces.

A third test looked at transfer and persistence to further mimic real-world scenarios, measuring colony growth after 0 minutes (transfer) and 90 minutes (persistence). The transfer of the MSSA strain reduced by 87% when compared to smooth surfaces, and subsequent persistence decreased by 97% after 90 minutes. Comparatively, the copper surfaces which are also known for decreasing MSSA bacterial growth, showed no significant decrease when compared to the smooth control assays. Regarding MRSA bacteria, the copper surfaces did effectively reduce growth by 80% and 79% for transfer and survival respectively. According to the statistical analysis, overall the Sharklet micropattern significantly reduced bacterial transfer and survivorship when compared to copper and smooth surface assays and "accelerated loss of bacteria viability".

The significance of these findings can have profound influences on the improvement and maintenance of sterile surfaces and environments in hospital and clinical settings. While periodic sterilizations are undertaken in these environments, the high volume of traffic facilitates the transferral of various microbial strains from person to person or surface to surface. Additionally, many products used for cleaning and sterilization can be toxic, a dangerous exposure to patients with compromised immune systems, or foster selection for resistant bacterial strains. With the Sharklet technology, not only are microorganisms prevented from settling and colonizing, their reproductive success and survivorship is inhibited, creating drastically cleaner surfaces for longer periods of time while also decreasing exposure to viruses and toxic chemicals. A decrease in microbial growth also decreases the risk of infection from persistent viral or bacterial strains, creating a safer environment for patients and decreasing cleaning costs. Eventually, this technology could expand to high-bacteria surfaces such as in elementary schools, public restrooms, public locker rooms and more, leading to cleaner and healthier environments and hopefully decreasing disease infection and spreading rates.

Mann, EM et al. "Surface Micropattern Limits Bacterial Contamination." Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control 3.28 (2014): 1-8. Print.


  1. This is a really interesting topic! With disease and infection in the news regularly, particularly with the recent ebola epidemic, technologies in this area are receiving a lot of attention. The Sharklet micropattern is intriguing and it would be interesting to follow its development in the medical field.

    This post is well written and very detailed. I think it would best suit a reader who has some background in biology and/or scientific language as some of the terminology used may be past the knowledge of the layperson.

  2. This technology sounds extremely useful and necessary. While it was not mentioned, I wonder how effective this technology is to c. diff, which is a bacteria that causes gastrointestinal distress, and is easily spread via contact with an infected patient. Many hospital patients are plagued with this disease and it can spread very easily, thus sharklet technology could be useful against this spread as well!

  3. Although I see the potential application for hospitals that are constantly fighting infection. Use in elementary schools, public restrooms, etc could have potentially detrimental effects. The hygiene hypothesis proposes that a lack of microbial exposure leads to an increase in autoimmune diseases. Additionally, there are currently many studies involving the human microbiome which are contributing to an understanding of the vital function played by the organisms that live within us. As such, the use of sharklet should be limited to hospitals as we primarily have a symbiotic relationship with the microbes that live around us.

  4. This is such a creative idea to help prevent the spread of infection, and I can see how widespread use of these biomimetics could make it easier for hospitals to keep the spread of infections at a minimum. I feel like certain biomimetics could potentially have a use in research to lower the amount of contamination in labs. Especially in labs which use high-precision techniques like qPCR, it can be difficult to keep the lab clean enough. I'm interested to see how these technologies continue to be developed.

  5. This is an intriguing and creative discovery that will undoubtedly find many useful applications in the field. My initial reaction is to figure out how the pattern actually reduces bacterial colony growth. Perhaps the sharp teeth physically limit bacterial size? Regardless, I think understanding the physical methods behind this process is important because in the long run, these surfaces may have distinct disadvantages or drawbacks that wouldn't be immediately obvious in a laboratory setting.

  6. This discovery is very interesting! The idea that it could be used in places like elementary schools to prevent kids from getting sick is a great idea. I wonder, though, how they would put it in those places, and how difficult it would be to maintain the surface. I'm interested to see where this goes in the future.