Scientists invent human gills after studying beetles

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Don’t you love a headline like that, which gives no room for misinterpretation? Yes, you can throw your snorkelling gear in the bin and stick yer personal submarine back in the garage: physicists at Nottingham Trent University have been inventing artificial gills which could let humans breathe underwater.

The research into ‘super-water-repellant surfaces’ is based on Dytiscus marginalis (the Great Diving Beetle to you and me), which has rigid hairs on its belly that repel water and form a protective film of air which act as gills, letting oxygen in and kicking carbon dioxide out. The scientists have been trying to use this to make a synthetic material that in theory could be used to help a human ‘breathe’ naturally underwater.

Okay, so as things stand there’s still a hefty chance of dying of a massive carbon dioxide or methane overdose. But still, your own set of gills, eh? Presumably somewhere in the ocean right now, a bunch of boffiny marlins are working on swimming trunks and goggles for fish. Probably.

Stuart Dredge