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Scientists analyze the phenomenon of wrinkled skin in the computer model
Everyone knows the phenomenon of wrinkled skin after bathing, but it poses a very difficult question for science. Because a short time after being in the water, the skin is smooth again and shows no permanent damage. The researchers led by Professor Roland Roth from the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Tübingen and the physicist Dr. Myfanwy Evans from the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) has now been investigated in more detail using a physical model on the computer and thereby gained astonishing new knowledge. Their results were published in the "Physical Review Letters" magazine.
For the first time, the scientists at the universities of Erlangen-Nuremberg and Tübingen modeled the structure of the outer layer of skin on the mesoscopic scale in order to clarify why the fingers become wrinkled after a bath and how the skin then smoothes out again. “If we spend a long time in the water, our skin absorbs moisture and the cells of the outer skin layer swell. In a dry environment, the skin releases the additional water it absorbs without permanent damage and is smooth again a short time later, ”is how the University of Tübingen describes the phenomenon. According to the scientists, the keratin fibers of the outer skin cells play an important role here. In their computer model, the researchers have now calculated the processes that take place in the individual components of the skin when water is absorbed and, according to their own statements, found "an interesting interplay of the forces in the outer skin cells."
Interplay of forces in the outer skin layer The scientists explain that keratin fibers are present in a geometrically ordered structure in the outer skin layer. The keratin is "hydrophilic, so it feels very comfortable in an aqueous environment", which is why the skin cells absorb the water when bathing. The water intake causes the cells to swell, causing the keratin fibers to stretch, the researchers continue. “Like a spiral spring that you pull out in length,” this in turn requires elastic energy. "The interplay of these forces, which work in opposite directions", brings the expansion of the cells to a standstill and limits the maximum amount of water absorbed by the skin, the University of Tübingen announced. In the end, the "expansion stops before the keratin fibers can touch and permanently network, which would result in a permanent change in the mechanical properties of the cells" or permanent damage to the skin. Since the fibers do not cross-link, the skin can release the absorbed water after bathing and smooth itself out without permanent damage.
Evolutionary advantage of the shrunken fingers remains unclear The computer model has shown which processes lead to shriveled fingers when bathing and how the skin then smoothes out again. However, it remains unclear what evolutionary advantage wrinkled skin offers and why the body has this property. So far, the discussion has mainly focused on the aspect of liability or “grip”. For example, some researchers assume that objects can also be gripped or held better in water with wrinkled fingers. However, recent studies have not been able to confirm this effect. Even if they cannot provide an answer to this question, the scientists at the universities of Erlangen-Nuremberg and Tübingen hope that their computer model will help in the future to “better understand and treat skin diseases and to create artificial materials based on the skin. "(Fp)
Picture: Günther Gumhold / pixelio.de