Breathe Underwater Like Aquaman

Switching it up from my previous post, let’s move from the most popular hero in Marvel comics to arguably one of the biggest jokes in DC publishing: Aquaman.  In theory, I think Aquaman’s powers have a lot of potential: the telepathic ability to communicate with marine life (which at times can include any creature that lives on the sea, like seabirds, or sometimes even just any being evolved from marine life), in addition to numerous adaptations that allow him to survive in the greatest depths of the ocean.  Especially in the DCNU, DC is trying its hardest to present Aquaman in his best possible light:

Aquaman vs. Green Lantern

But personally, I have a hard time reconciling this new version of Aquaman with things more like this:

Regardless of which version of Aquaman you prefer, the ability to breathe underwater and superhuman durability high enough to remain unaffected by the immense pressure and the cold temperature of the ocean depths would actually be particularly useful in real life.  Science has diverged into two distinct directions both researching ways to allow man to effectively breathe underwater.

First is the strictly mechanical route: Like-A-Fish Technologies has developed an artificial gills process that effectively extracts oxygen from the surrounding water.  Their battery powered system utilizes a high-speed centrifuge to lower the pressure of seawater in a small sealed chamber.  This allows the dissolved air to escape back into a gaseous state to create a replenishing supply of breathable oxygen.  Since every liter of water consists of about 1.5% of dissolved air, the gills must circulate about 200 liters of water per minute to accommodate the oxygen requirements of an average person. Instead of being restricted to the amount of air that can be carried in a tank, a diver’s air supply would then depend only on the battery power available.  However, this technology is still in the prototype stages, and extensive research and development testing is required before it could be widely available.

However, artificial gills are not the only option for research into the realm of breathing underwater. Scientists have discovered a way for humans to potentially breathe underwater by merging our DNA with that of algae. A species of salamanders have been discovered that bond their eggs with oxygen-producing algae so closely that the two are now inseparable.  Scientists hope through further study of this mechanism, that the same process could be one day applied to humans as well.  Researchers from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, discovered that human DNA is rife with hundreds of viruses we have absorbed over the course of history.  They applied this same theory to salamanders: algae often got stuck in their embryos and now some salamanders are literally part algae.  The algae does not leave as the salamander grows, meaning that by the time they are fully formed adults, salamanders are part plant.

This discovery is the first documented case of such complete symbiosis between a plant and a vertebrate. Bioengineers could one day potentially use algae as a source of oxygen for other organisms that it pairs with – including humans.  Such a leap would require extensive testing but given that like salamanders, we are also vertebrates, it is theoretically possible.

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2 thoughts on “Breathe Underwater Like Aquaman

  1. kquesen says:

    I really like Aquaman riding the flying fish. I think I remember James Bond using something like the artificial gills in one of his movies, but they were much smaller. How long will they operated based on battery life?

    Prof. Quesenberry

    • mwells20 says:

      In the current model, the battery would last for about an hour, depending on the individual’s oxygen consumption during the dive. So the greatest potential for the artificial gills system actually isn’t as a replacement scuba pack, but instead as an oxygen generator for an underwater habitat. That way where there would be no shortage of electrical power for the system, and the artificial gills could greatly help reduce the habitat’s dependence on replacement air tanks from the surface.

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