The future’s bright and bullet proof – thanks to fish

Next time you strike lucky when you’re out fishing, take a moment to examine your catch.

Because it could hold the answer to some of the world’s most pressing technological challenges. Yes, fish are in demand as never before, not just because they taste nice, but for their high tech secrets.

Read on to find out just how high tech a fish can be.

Body armour

fish scales

Image source: Wikimedia

For a construction technique that could lead to production of fishing clothing that’s literally bulletproof, we need to trek to the Amazon. The arapaima is a river fish that grows to over 2 m in length and can weigh as much as 200 kg. But it’s not its size that interests scientists.

The scales of the arapaima are so tough, piranhas’ teeth crumble on impact. Scientists studying the scales have discovered that beneath their rock hard mineral exterior, the fish scales ride on a bed of elastic protein threads. The combination of hard and soft lends the scales incredible toughness, a discovery that’s inspiring a new generation of flak jacket as well as tougher false limbs.


A plate of fresh sardines or herring is a delicious heart healthy meal at which few would turn their noses up. But those shimmering silver fish have scientists in a flap for a completely different reason. It’s to do with the way their bodies reflect light.

Crystals in the skin of the fish are aligned so they reflect light in all directions, mimicking the natural play of light around their ocean home. It’s neat trick that helps hide the shoal from the beady eyes of dolphins and other predators. Researchers now believe they can use this clever natural mirroring to improve LED and fibre-optic technology.


Hoki is a succulent white fish commercially harvested in New Zealand. But it’s not the flesh that’s spawned a whole new high tech industry, but the skin. As a by product, hoki skin had no particular use until scientists discovered the possibilities of the collagen it contained. Engineers worked out a way to spin the collagen into nanothreads 500 times thinner than a human hair.

From the super fine threads a non woven mat is produced. An incredible surface area makes this mat ideal for use in air purification filters, but its applications offer far more scope than that. The super thin material can be impregnated with anti bacterial agents for use in wound dressings. And other uses include in electronics, cosmetics and packaging. There could even be a use for hoki skin fibres in structural engineering.

Underwater robots

Remote controlled unmanned subs are hard to manoeuvre, particularly in confined spaces. This makes them less than ideal for tackling complex tasks like the investigation shipwrecks. But now engineers are making progress with a new type of sub whose movement and sensory equipment is based on the knifefish, a small inhabitant of mangrove swamps.

Instead of using its eyes to see, the knifefish beams a low voltage electric field that enables it to sense its surroundings. The diminutive fish is able to negotiate the tangled tree roots and dense water vegetation by means of delicate undulations of its long blade-like fin. By replicating the knifefish’s electronic eyes and precise manoeuvring ability, new generation robots will be able to go where no deep sea probe has been before.

Wind Farms

When engineers were tasked with bringing wind power generation to the Los Angeles valley, they faced a problem: the lack of space. To resolve this issue, they went for vertical rather than the usual horizontal blades. But to make the best use of the available land, they went a step further, and turned to fish to help them work out the best way to position the turbines.

Scientists have noticed that individuals in a shoal of fish position themselves to make most efficient use of the vortices created by the fins of the fish around them. Engineers took this research and applied it to the positioning of each turbine in the farm, even working out the optimal direction of rotation of each turbine blade.