Pilot whale skin holds secret to toxin-free paint

“Work being done by a team of German scientists could hold the key to developing a non-toxic paint for covering the hulls of ships and boats.

According to the New Scientist, a team from the Hanover School of Veterinary Medicine in Germany has discovered that the nano-structure of pilot whale skin stops the build-up of microscopic organisms such as barnacle larvae. The group is hoping to patent a version of the whale’s skin that is based on a variety of biodegradable materials, and which could be reproduced to create an environmentally friendly paint.

The secret lies in a combination of ridges and enzyme-packed gel, which lie on the surface of a pilot whale’s skin. The scientists believe that organisms such as bacteria are unable to stick to the ridge edges, and that if they try to hold onto the gel, the enzymes it contains attacks them. Without these organisms to feed on, larger animals such as crustacean are unable to colonise the whale’s skin.

The paint would gradually wear away in seawater, and have to be reapplied every five years or so, but this is a better alternative to the toxic chemicals such as the notorious anti-fouling chemical tributyltin (TBT, that are found in many of today’s paints.

These chemicals remain in the environment for a long time and damage a variety of marine life. Although TBT will be banned in 2003 and safer alternatives are today available, many still have an impact on the environment.

First seen in the journal Marine biology

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