#2. Shark Skin Bacteria Repellent
Between Jaws, Shark Week and the blood-curdling choreography from the Latino gang in West Side Story, most of us have gained a healthy appreciation of sharks. Sure, we know that more people are killed by cows than by sharks every year, but you can't look at those soulless beady eyes and that mouth full of gum razors and not shiver until the pee comes down.
"Wet suit? Yes, I did."
Maybe it's our irrational fear of the scapegoats of the sea that kept us from noticing something important about them: Nothing sticks to their skin. While whales are dripping in barnacles and manatees collect enough algae to host garden parties on their backs, sharks stay smooth. And it's not just because the bacteria is scared.
It turns out that a shark's skin has special denticles to repel everything from it. That's because their skin isn't skin skin, it's scales. You just thought they had smooth skin because the scales are so freaking awesome in how they work. Rub their skin one way, and the scales are as smooth as a baby's butt. Rub it the other way, and the scales are as rough as a full-grown man's butt. That's because the scales are arranged in a diamond pattern that creates an air cushion when you rub them toward the tail, but go rough when you rub them toward the head. And what scientists figured out is that algae and bacteria don't like to live on shark skin, because its unique texture makes it hard for the tiny organisms to attach themselves to it.
This illustration is drawn to scale -- HAHAHAHA, GET IT?!
It only took a little research to figure out how to duplicate the pattern that made shark skin bacteria-repellent. So the first thing scientists did with this technology was cover Navy ships and subs in a plastic sharkskin film that also repelled algae. The second thing they did was make Michael Phelps a special suit so he could win medals. The third thing they did was say, "Holy shit! This could also save millions of lives!"
Up until now, in the war against deadly bacteria, we've usually employed one tactic: kill it. Kill every bug we can with antibacterial soap, medicine and tiny knives. And in response, the bacteria has just gotten resistant, thanks to the miracle of natural selection. Which is why 99,000 Americans a year die from infections they got in the hospital. But if we could make surfaces the bacteria simply don't like to grow on ...
That's why a company called Sharklet Technologies is now marketing a sticky film covered in the sharkskin pattern to use on all of the hospital surfaces that collect diseases -- the bedside tables, door handles, even those plastic bracelets no one ever thinks to disinfect. So the next time you're swimming in the ocean and a shark bites off your arm, give him a little wink of thanks. His skin might keep you from losing the rest of your body to infection.
#1. The Pit Viper Has Probably Already Saved Someone You Know
The jararaca snake is a pit viper who really doesn't deserve a name as fun to say as "jararaca." Its bite can do a whole host of shitty things, including something called compartment syndrome. Sounds harmless, right? Well, compartment syndrome squeezes muscle tissue into a dense space until the skin suffocates and dies. And it looks like this: WARNING: CLICKING THIS WILL SHOW YOU A MAN'S LEG WITH THE SKIN SPLIT OPEN, SHOWING A BASEBALL-SIZED CHUNK OF EXPOSED MUSCLE TISSUE.
Via Wikipedia (uncensored)
The size of the censored area should give you a pretty good clue as to how severe this thing is.
That actually has nothing to do with this entry. We just wanted you to know how serious the pit viper is. For the most part, the jararaca bite works a number on your blood, causing your blood vessels to dilate and your insides to hemorrhage. But before all that takes place, the victim collapses in a heap because of a sudden drop in blood pressure. And in the 1960s, researchers figured out why: The venom contains a protein that blocks angiotensin-converting enzyme, or ACE. That's the enzyme that keeps your blood pressure at the right level. Block it and your blood pressure falls; block it enough and you die.
"Looks like someone's been hitting the ol' snake juice, huh, Grandma?"
At this point, you can already guess where this is going: High blood pressure is an indicator of a future stroke, heart disease, aneurysms, death and a medicine cabinet full of pills. Oh, and 31 percent of Americans over age 20 have it. So high blood pressure kills way more people a year than pit vipers, is what we're saying. But what if we could use the pressure-dropping power of jararaca snake venom to help people who can't stop eating potato chips? In 1975, that's exactly what the pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb did. By the early '80s, yuppies everywhere had access to a drug that would reduce the blood pressure that came from playing the stock market game and constant cocaine use, with its most common side effect being a cough.
And ... "other things."
Not bad for a poison that can turn your leg into a giant vagina, huh?
And for animals that are just going to straight kill your ass, check out The 6 Cutest Animals That Can Still Destroy You and The 6 Deadliest Animals Too Adorable to Run Away From.