Tiger tongues are usually not simple to come back by. So when 15-year-old Sumatran tiger Kavi died at an Atlanta zoo in 2016, Alexis Noel and David Hu made positive they’d dibs on his tongue.
It joined specimens from 5 different cat species — lion, tiger, cougar, bobcat and home cat — in a examine of microscopic tongue construction.
And it seems your pet moggie’s tongue is not a lot totally different to its huge cat counterparts. It is coated in syringe-like spines that smear saliva deep into thick fur.
Reporting within the Proceedings of the Nationwide Academy of Sciences in the present day, the Georgia Institute of Know-how pair took inspiration from their findings to 3D print a versatile brush.
They are saying it might be used to assist apply pores and skin ointments on pets or by the textiles business to detangle delicate fibres with out damaging them.
Lick, eat, sleep, repeat
Watch a cat for any size of time, and you may see they spend loads of time contorting themselves to lick each little bit of fur attainable.
Grooming not solely helps take away filth and different particles, nevertheless it additionally acts like an evaporative cooler.
To see how their tongue helps them keep cool and clear — and to see if it is the identical throughout cat species — Dr Noel and Dr Hu first needed to get their arms on some samples.
The tiger tongue, for example, got here from the Atlanta zoo.
The remaining got here from a wildlife rescue facility in Tennessee — “form of like a ranch for giant cats”, Dr Hu mentioned — and taxidermists.
“We have been very affected person for a interval of a yr and waited till we bought one from every species.”
As soon as they’d the tongues, every was scanned utilizing micro-CT, which supplies an in depth view of microscopic buildings.
Dr Noel and Dr Hu discovered every species’ tongue was coated with lots of of sharp, scoop-shaped spines known as papillae.
Nearer examination revealed that the papillae suggestions have been hole, which helped distribute saliva during the fur, right down to the pores and skin.
That is essential as a result of although cats spend a lot of the day mendacity round, they nonetheless have to maintain themselves cool.
And massive cats, being greater, are extra liable to overheating than their domesticated cousins.
“They haven’t any option to sweat besides via their paws, they usually pant, in order that they put saliva on their physique and that evaporates,” Dr Hu mentioned.
A brush with greatness?
To see if they might emulate the grooming properties of a cat’s tongue, Dr Noel and Dr Hu 3D printed a versatile brush with comparable, albeit bigger, papillae-like nubs.
This tongue-inspired grooming brush, or TIGR brush, might be used to use pores and skin ointments on furry or furry pets.
“So it is a method which you could get particular remedies right down to the pores and skin.”
And since the versatile TIGR spines exert much less power on hair once they’re brushed via, one thing comparable might be utilized by the textiles business to separate delicate fibres.
Australian Nationwide College supplies scientist Luke Connal, who was not concerned within the examine, mentioned that the comb is an fascinating instance of biomimicry: applied sciences impressed by the pure world.
“Should you take a look at animals, vegetation, any dwelling creature, they’ve all developed actually cool biology, chemistry and physics,” he mentioned.
“[Dr Noel and Dr Hu] discovered this area of interest construction in a cat to make a brush.”
Biomimicry is just not a brand new factor, both.
“The traditional instance is the aeroplane,” Dr Connal mentioned.
“Leonardo Da Vinci, again within the day, appeared on the aerodynamics of birds and sketched gliders.”
Extra not too long ago, Japan’s bullet trains took inspiration from kingfishers to design a extra aerodynamic nostril cone.
And on a smaller scale, nano-scale buildings on shark pores and skin might assist delivery firms lower your expenses on gas.
“Sharks are excellent at swimming, however their pores and skin can also be excellent at stopping issues like micro organism from sticking to them,” Dr Connal mentioned.
These anti-bacterial and “anti-fouling” properties are being explored to make paints and coatings that cease microbes from latching on.
Not solely might they be utilized in hospitals, Dr Connal mentioned, they might cut back drag on ships.