Shark Attack
A fisherman holds the shark which was identified by an Egyptian diver as the shark which attacked four tourists in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh December 2, 2010. Reuters/Stringer

Scientists are baffled as they have discovered a weird jelly-like substance in the brains of sharks that can very well be world’s most powerful proton conductor.

A study, published on Friday in the journal Science Advances, discovered that the jelly-like substance constituting Ampullae of Lorenzini (AOL), sharks’ electricity-sensing organs, may be as conductive as some of world’s most advanced materials made by man.

According to the study, it has also been found out that this dense network of jelly-filled canals found in sharks, rays and cartilaginous fish has highly-sensitive electro-receptors that are capable of sensing electric signals from miles away. Ampullae of Lorenzini were discovered more than 300 years ago in sharks. However, scientists were not able to understand their functions. AOL was named after 17th-century Italian doctor who first discovered it.

The discovery that the AOL are super-conductors may lead to new technological applications for the biological material. Humans and animals in the ocean emit an electric field with every flick of fin or twitch of a muscle. Sharks, because of AOL, are able to detect the electric field while searching for prey.

To find out how sharks do it, researcher Marco Rolandi focused on the jelly that fills long tubes connecting sharks’ skin pores to their electro-sensitive cells. The substance was found to be the best biological material to conduct protons. This conductivity of the jelly enables the electric charge to flow easily from one side of the tube to the other.

“The observation of high proton conductivity in the jelly is very exciting. We hope that our findings may contribute to future studies of the electrosensing function of the ampullae of Lorenzini and of the organ overall, which is itself rather exceptional,” Rolandi said in a University of Washington article.

Rolandi added that he did not expect a natural material like the jelly would “approach the proton conductivity of an engineered material like Nafion.”