Amazing New 3D Images of Shark Intestines Show They Function Like Nikola Tesla’s Valve

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Pacific Spiny Dogfish Spiral Intestine

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A CT scan picture of the spiral intestinal tract of a Pacific spiny dogfish shark (Squalus suckleyi). The start of the intestinal tract is on the left, and completion is on the right. Credit: Samantha Leigh/California State University Dominguez Hills

Contrary to what popular media depicts, we really don’t understand much about what sharks consume. Even less is understood about how they absorb their food, and the function they play in the bigger ocean community.

For more than a century, scientists have actually counted on flat sketches of sharks’ digestion systems to recognize how they work — and how what they consume and excrete effects other types in the ocean. Now, scientists have actually produced a series of high-resolution, 3D scans of intestinal tracts from almost 3 lots shark types that will advance the understanding of how sharks consume and absorb their food.

Smooth Dogfish

Three smooth dogfish sharks (Mustelus canis). Credit: Elizabeth Roberts/Wikimedia Commons

“It’s high time that some modern technology was used to look at these really amazing spiral intestines of sharks,” stated lead author Samantha Leigh, assistant teacher at California State University Dominguez Hills. “We developed a new method to digitally scan these tissues and now can look at the soft tissues in such great detail without having to slice into them.”

The research study group from California State University Dominguez Hills, the University of Washington, and University of California, Irvine, released its findings July 21 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

CT Scan Dogfish Shark Spiral Intestine

A CT scan picture of a dogfish shark spiral intestinal tract, revealed from the leading looking down. Credit: Samantha Leigh/California State University Dominguez Hills

The scientists mostly utilized a digital tomography (CT) scanner at the UW’s Friday Harbor Laboratories to develop 3D pictures of shark intestinal tracts, which originated from specimens protected at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. The device works like a basic CT scanner utilized in healthcare facilities: A series of X-ray images is drawn from various angles, then integrated utilizing computer system processing to develop three-dimensional images. This permits scientists to see the intricacies of a shark intestinal tract without needing to dissect or disrupt it.

Pacific Spiny Dogfish

A live Pacific spiny dogfish shark (Squalus suckleyi). Credit: Samantha Leigh/California State University Dominguez Hills

“CT scanning is one of the only ways to understand the shape of shark intestines in three dimensions,” stated co-author Adam Summers, a teacher based at UW Friday Harbor Labs who has actually led an around the world effort to scan the skeletons of fishes and other vertebrate animals. “Intestines are so complex — with so many overlapping layers, that dissection destroys the context and connectivity of the tissue. It would be like trying to understand what was reported in a newspaper by taking scissors to a rolled-up copy. The story just won’t hang together.”

Smooth Dogfish Spiral Intestine

A CT scan picture of a smooth dogfish shark (Mustelus canis) spiral intestinal tract, revealed
from the leading looking down. Credit: Samantha Leigh/California State University Dominguez Hills

From their scans, the scientists found numerous brand-new elements about how shark intestinal tracts work. It appears these spiral-shaped organs slow the motion of food and direct it downward through the gut, depending on gravity in addition to peristalsis, the balanced contraction of the gut’s smooth muscle. Its function looks like the one-way valve created by Nikola Tesla more than a century ago that permits fluid to stream in one instructions, without backflow or support from any moving parts.

This finding might shed brand-new light on how sharks consume and process their food. Most sharks generally go days and even weeks in between eating big meals, so they depend on having the ability to hold food in their system and soak up as lots of nutrients as possible, Leigh discussed. The slowed motion of food through their gut triggered by the spiral intestinal tract most likely permits sharks to maintain their food longer, and they likewise utilize less energy processing that food.


This video reveals the 3D picture of a Pacific spiny dogfish (Squalus suckleyi) spiral intestinal tract. Credit: Samantha Leigh/California State University Dominguez Hills

Because sharks are leading predators in the ocean and likewise consume a great deal of various things — invertebrates, fish, mammals and even seagrass — they naturally manage the biodiversity of lots of types, the scientists stated. Knowing how sharks process what they consume, and how they excrete waste, is essential for comprehending the bigger community.

“The vast majority of shark species, and the majority of their physiology, are completely unknown. Every single natural history observation, internal visualization and anatomical investigation shows us things we could not have guessed at,” Summers stated. “We need to look harder at sharks and, in particular, we need to look harder at parts other than the jaws, and the species that don’t interact with people.”


This video reveals the soft tissue of a Pacific spiny dogfish (Squalus suckleyi) spiral intestinal tract, turned and seen from various angles. Credit: Samantha Leigh/California State University Dominguez Hills

The authors prepare to utilize a 3D printer to develop designs of numerous various shark intestinal tracts to evaluate how products move through the structures in genuine time. They likewise want to work together with engineers to utilize shark intestinal tracts as motivation for commercial applications such as wastewater treatment or filtering microplastics out of the water column.

Reference: 20 July 2021, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2021.1359

Other co-authors on the paper are Donovan German of University of California, Irvine, and Sarah Hoffmann of Applied Biological Services.

This research study was moneyed by Friday Harbor Laboratories, the UC Irvine OCEANS Graduate Research Fellowship, the Newkirk Center Graduate Research Fellowship, the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program and UC Irvine.



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