Sharks differ from other fish in many ways, including an apparently remarkable ability to heal from wounds, according to reports of sharks recovering from injuries sustained in the wild.
While this healing ability hasn’t yet been documented in controlled laboratory conditions, some of the chemical compounds found in shark skin may have significant biomedical potential.
To investigate this possibility, two dermatology researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden carried out research on a small shark, the spiny dogfish (“Squalus acanthias”) and other cartilaginous fish species at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
They wanted to understand the unique biochemistry of the skin of these animals. Previous research on sharks in other labs has led to the development of a new antibiotic as well as the discovery of biochemical pathways relevant to cystic fibrosis research.
Jakob Wikstrom, associate professor of dermatology and principal investigator at Karolinska, and Etty Bachar-Wikstrom, a senior researcher, investigated the skin mucus of two species of sharks and their close relatives, little skates, at the MBL.
Unlike the vast majority of fish species, which have relatively smooth skin protected by a thick, slimy layer of mucus, sharks have rough skin that feels like sandpaper. It wasn’t obvious whether this skin has a protective mucus layer at all.
According to Wikstrom:
“Much more is known about fish biology than shark biology, for obvious reasons. Fish are easier to handle, and there’s a bigger commercial interest in them.”
Sharks are also fish, of course, but 99 percent of fish are bony species (Osteichthyes), unlike the cartilaginous sharks and skates (Chondrichthyes), he pointed out.
The initial results of their research on the mucus layer were recently published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
“Our aim in this paper was to characterize shark skin at the molecular level, which hasn’t been done in depth.”
Their study found a very thin mucus layer on shark skin that’s chemically different from that of bony fish. The shark mucus is less acidic, almost neutral, and turns out to be more chemically similar to some mammalian mucus, including some human mucus, than to bony fish mucus, she said.
Check out their research here.