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Skin resists microorganisms: pilot whale


Pilot whale / Adam Li, NOA.. / LicenseCC-by - Attribution

The skin of pilot whales resists microorganisms thanks to microscopic pores and nanoridges, surrounded by a secreted enzymatic gel which denatures proteins and carbohydrates.

"Christoph Baum and a team from the Hanover School of Veterinary Medicine in Germany have discovered that a pilot whale's skin has a specialised nano-structure that stops the build-up of microscopic organisms such as barnacle larvae. They plan to mimic the idea in an anti-fouling paint. Baum and his team examined freeze-dried samples of pilot whale skin under a cryo-scanning electron microscope. They discovered a surface made up of tiny pores 0.1 micrometres across surrounded by raised 'nanoridges'. In between the ridges is a rubber-like gel containing enzymes that denature proteins and carbohydrates. The gel, which oozes out of the gaps between skin cells, is replenished as the whale sheds its skin. Baum thinks that organisms such as bacteria and diatoms have trouble sticking to the ridge edges, which provide little purchase. And if they try hanging onto the gel the enzymes will attack them. Without these pioneers, larger creatures such as crustacean or mollusc larvae have a hard time colonising the whale's skin. The group intends to patent a version of the pilot whale's skin as a more eco-friendly alternative to existing anti-fouling paints. To copy the skin, Baum plans on using a variety of biodegradable materials." (Courtesy of the Biomimicry Guild)
"On the skin surface of delphinids small biofoulers are challenged to high shear water flow and liquid–vapor interfaces of air-bubbles during jumping. This state of self-cleaning is supported by the even, nano-rough gel-coated epidermal surface of the skin. The present study focussed on the intercellular evolution of gel formation and the chemical composition of the gel smoothing the skin surface of the pilot whale, Globicephala melas…In the superficial layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum, intercellular material was shown…to assemble from smaller into larger covalently cross-linked aggregates during the transit of the corneocytes towards the skin surface. XPS measurements showed that the surface of the skin and the intercellular gel included approximately the same amounts of polar groups (especially, free amines and amides) and non-polar groups, corresponding to the presence of lipid droplets dispersed within the jelly material. It was concluded from the results that the gel-coat of the skin surface is a chemically heterogeneous skin product. The advantages of chemically heterogeneous patches contributing to the ablation of traces of the biofouling process are discussed." (Baum et al. 2003:181)
About the inspiring organism
long-finned pilot whale
Globicephala melas (Traill, 1809)
Common name: Long-finned pilot whale

Habitat(s): Marine Oceanic
Learn more at
Some organism data provided by: ITIS: The Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

Threat Categories LONG_DD IUCN Red List Status: Data Deficient

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Anti-fouling paints and other coatings.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Manufacturing

Institute for Microbiology
Christoph Baum
Department of Infectious Diseases, Royal School of Equine Medicine, the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Foundation (TiHo)
Baum C; Simon F; Meyer W; Fleischer L-G; Siebers D; Kacza J; Seeger J. 2003. Surface properties of the skin of the pilot whale Globicephala melas. Biofouling. 19(Supplement): 181-186.
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Baum C; Meyer W; Stelzer R; Fleischer L-G; Siebers. 2002. Average nanorough skin surface of the pilot whale (Globicephala melas, Delphinidae): considerations on the self-cleaning abilities based on nanoroughness. Marine Biology. 140(3): 653-657.
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