Hagfish slime provides new source of fibers

Posted Dec 24, 2012 by Tim Sandle
The eel-like hagfish, which oozes out slime, might be the source of superior new fibers for parachutes, packaging and possibly clothing, according to a new study.
A hagfish at the Vancouver Aquarium.
A hagfish at the Vancouver Aquarium.
Stan Shebs
The study, Discovery News notes, examines the mechanical properties of threads made from hagfishes’ slimy mucus. The research has found that the fibers produced by the creature are both strong and stretchy. This could provide the basis for creating superior new materials.
The hagfish (Myxine glutinosa) is found in the Atlantic Ocean. The eel-like creature has lines of slime pores that run down the sides of its body. As a defense reaction, the hagfish ejects copious amounts of slime.
As the research brief recounts, a science team collected buckets of slime from Atlantic hagfish for laboratory analysis. Here the researchers concentrated the slime’s proteins. They found they could produce threads up to 20 centimeters long by dripping the concentrated proteins onto the surface of a salty buffer solution.
The proteins that make up the threads belong to a class known as intermediate filaments that also includes keratin, the stuff of hair and fingernails. It is similar in strength to the silk that spiders produce to make webs.
Commenting on his research, biomaterials specialist Douglas Fudge of the University of Guelph in Canada, said: “The tensile properties approach those of spider silk, and that’s very exciting.”
The study has been published in the journal Biomacromolecules.