A definite, internal jelly that assists other underwater creatures along with sharks identify their prey’s electric indicators provides the greatest proton conductivity in the natural world, according to a new research.
The jelly in question is found in the ‘ampullae of Lorenzini’ (AoL) – an array of electrosensory organs present in cartilaginous fish such as sharks, skates, and rays. While scientists have known about the ampullae of Lorenzini for centuries, the remarkable conductivity of the jelly-like substance inside has come as a surprise, and it could even lead to new technological applications for the biological material.
The observation of high proton conductivity in the jelly is very exciting.We hope that our findings may contribute to future studies of the electrosensing function of the ampullae of Lorenzini and of the organ overall, which is itself rather exceptional,” said materials scientist and electrical engineer Marco Rolandi from the University of Washington.
The ampullae of Lorenzini are found on the heads and underside of elasmobranchs – a sub-class of cartilaginous fish – as small pores on the skin’s surface (refer to the image of the shark below).
These surface pores are attached to the electrosensory cells by canals filled with clear, viscous jelly, which let the fish detect weak electrical fields emitted by other animals in the sea – even signals as subtle as 5 nanovolts per centimetre.
As the scientists do not yet completely understand the way the jelly plays a part in this purpose, it is obvious that it somehow plays a particular role, because of its enormous convenience of conductivity, that the group claims to be the greatest previously documented to get a biological material.
At roughly 2 ± 1 millisiemens per centimetre, the conductivity of the jelly is just 40 times lower than the polymer Nafion, a synthetic material known for its superior conductivity.
Proton conductivity is just a type of electrical conductivity where hydrogen carry the charge ions, as opposed to electrons. Although electrons carry the charge in extremely conductive metals for example copper and silver, proton conductivity is definitely an essential process in powering photosynthesis, and may be properly used gas cells later on and to construct better batteries in the future.
We suggest that keratan sulfate, identified previously in the AoL jelly and confirmed here, may contribute to the high proton conductivity of the AoL jelly with its sulfate groups – acid groups and proton donors,” the authors write in Science Advances.
The researchers hope that further study of the jelly will help us understand more about its remarkable properties, and they suggest that the material – if we’re able to replicate a synthetic version of it – could even find a home in new technologies, perhaps in the form of some kind of unconventional sensor device.