A new way to fight germs

In 2003, Tony Brennan, then a materials science and engineering professor at the University of Florida, was looking for a way to keep barnacles from sticking to ship hulls. He thought he might learn something from sharkskin, which is known for its ability to resist microbes. Peering through a microscope at an impression of the skin, he confirmed his hunch that a diamond-shaped pattern of tiny toothlike projections was keeping it clean. Given that insight, he and a professional acquaintance, Joe Bagan, founded Sharklet Technologies, a company in Alachua, Florida, that makes sheets of plastic imprinted with a raised sharkskinlike pattern. The sheets can be adhered to germ-prone surfaces to prevent bacteria from settling in for up to 30 days. An institutional version of the product is being tested for hospital use and is slated to debut next year. Sharklet plans to begin selling a consumer version, SafeTouch, in December for less than $10 per 9-inch-square sheet.