While Hollywood have given them a negative reputation, sharks may actually be our unlikely heroes in finding a solution to fight wound-related infections. In their natural habitat, blacktip reef sharks are often seen to be wounded but their wounds are rarely accompanied by any obvious signs of infection.
Given infection is caused by the invasion of harmful bacteria, researchers looked to investigate the shark skin microbiome (yes, they have them too) and found no difference between bacteria on injured skin and healthy, uninjured skin, regardless of skin type (gills or back). Interestingly, they noticed differences in samples from different locations only a few kilometers apart – likely reflecting differences in temperature, population density, pollution and nutrient availability of their immediate surroundings, but still without any indication of infection.
Based on these findings, the team identified a core skin microbiome common to the blacktip reef sharks irrespective of these differences. It appears that these sharks simply don’t get infected, at least not to enough of a degree to be detected, with the implication being that the bacterial makeup of the sharks’ skin may contribute to infection resistance and possibly wound healing.
While this opens up many more questions around if and how this works, finding a way to prevent or resist infection through healthy bacteria could provide enormous benefit to those with compromised immune systems. It may also provide a possible answer to the alarmingly growing global problem of antibiotic resistance.