Washington, July 28 : The armor of an African fish, which has trolled for prey in murky freshwater pools for nearly 100 million years, may be used to suit up future soldiers.
Known as Polypterus senegalus, the fish reaches a length of about 20 inches (50 cm) and sports a layer of scales that all armored fish would have had millions of years ago.
Now, a team of engineers from the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the US has dissected the aquatic armor, figuring out how it works in an effort to suit up future soldiers.
According to lead MIT researcher Christine Ortiz, "Such fundamental knowledge holds great potential for the development of improved biologically inspired structural materials, for example soldier, first-responder and military vehicle armor applications."
The armor of the fish is so effective because it is a composite of several materials lined up in a certain way.
The fish's shield would've been particularly critical in the past, when it had to fight off members of its own species along with the likes of typical predators, such as giant sea scorpions with biting mouth parts, grasping jaws, claws and spiked tails.
Today, though the armor may be overkill, it protects the fish from its own species and other carnivores in the water.
With funding from the US Army, the team of engineers measured the material properties of a single fish scale and its four layer materials, including bone and dentine (a major mineral in teeth).
The different chemical properties of each material, the shape and thickness of each layer and the junctions between layers all contributed to the armor's strength.
"That doesn't surprise me that millions of years or hundreds of millions of years of evolution would be a good starting point for what we need for this day and age," said Leo Smith, assistant curator of zoology at The Field Museum in Chicago.
"The armor's been sort of fine-tuned during that time for different aspects," he added.