Researchers from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are calling for the development of shark-skin inspired suits to protect soldiers, researchers and first responders against chemical and biological weapons.

DARPA, also known as the research arm of the Pentagon, believes that nature, specifically, shark skin, is the answer to the design of such suits particularly due to anti-fouling properties in shark skin, where microorganisms are easily sloughed off and unable to attach.

As such, the DARPA researchers are suggesting that the suits offer at least two benefits to the wearer. The first is that the suit form a physical barrier to protect the wearer and, second, that the suit neutralize agents that manage to breach the barrier before reaching the wearer’s eyes, nose, mouth and skin, neutralizing no less than two chemical or biological threats at once.

According to the request, the suit will need to protect against chemicals such as chlorine gas, gas, mustard gas, ammonia as well as organophosphate poisons including GB and VX and synthetic opioids, botulism and ricin. Meanwhile, the suits should also be able to protect against biological threats such as anthrax, MRSA and viruses such as influenza, Ebola and rhinovirus.

Current suits used to protect the wearer in the aftermath of a chemical or biological attack, DARPA researchers explained, are bulky and difficult to maneuver. Likewise, the suits are reportedly limited in the amount of protection they offer the wearer.

Proposals for the nature inspired suit to be worn by military and disaster relief personnel are due to DARPA in the beginning of 2020.

The proposal follows a current trend in technology where researchers are largely inspired by nature in terms of material development. For instance, researchers from the University of Buffalo are developing armor for the military inspired by pearls while University of Virginia researchers were inspired by sugar in the making of indestructible textiles and other everyday materials. Similarly, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital have developed an alternative to operative sutures and staples inspired by slugs.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com