Code-breaker’s theory proven for shark-scale patterning

Dr Gareth Fraser
Dr Gareth Fraser
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A theory put forward by Second World War code-breaker Alan Turing more than 60 years ago could explain the patterning of sharks’ tooth-like scales, new research has found.

Turing forefather of the computer, published his reaction-diffusion system into the patterning method of mouse hair and chicken feathers in 1952, two years before his death.

PhD student Rory Cooper

PhD student Rory Cooper

Now scientists from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences have found that Turing’s theory – widely accepted as the patterning method in mouse hair and chicken feathers – also applies to shark scales.

“We found that shark skin denticles are precisely patterned through a set of equations that Alan Turing – the mathematician, computer scientist and the code-breaker – came up with,” added Dr Gareth Fraser, formerly of the University of Sheffield and now at the University of Florida.

In the research paper, published in the journal Science Advances, researchers compared the patterning of shark scales to that of chicken feathers. The findings can explain how the pattern of shark scales has evolved to reduce drag whilst swimming, thereby saving energy during movement.

And scientist Rory Cooper, PhD student at the University of Sheffield, added that studying the patterning could help to design new shark-inspired materials to improve energy and transport efficiency.