To investigate the physical mechanism of the electric sense, we present an intial electrical characterization of the glycoprotein gel that fills the electrosensitive organs of marine elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, and rays). We have collected samples of this gel, postmortem, from three shark species, and removed the majority of dissolved salts in one sample via dialysis. Here we present the results of dc conductivity measurements, low-frequency impedance spectroscopy, and electrophoresis. Electrophoresis shows a range of large protein-based molecules fitting the expectations of glycoproteins, but the gels of different species exhibit litttle similarity. The electrophoresis signature is unaffected by thermal cycling and measurement currents. The dc data were collected at various temperatures, and at various electric and magnetic fields, showing consistency with the properties of seawater. The impedance data collected from a dialyzed sample, however, show large values of static permittivity and a loss peak corresponding to an unusually long relaxation time, about 1 ms. The exact role of the gel is still unknown, but our results suggest its bulk properties are well matched to the sensing mechanism, as the minimum response time of an entire electric organ is on the order of 5 ms.
Brown, Brandon R., "Electrical Characterization of Gel Collected from Shark Electrosensors" (2002). Physics and Astronomy. Paper 24.