December 4, 2012 9:30 am
The hagfish is not nature’s most lovable animal. It releases a snot-like slime when threatened, which converts to choking strands of tough fibers when it hits the water. But these secretions could make a slimy splash on the fashion runway. Researchers have figured out a way to harness the creature’s bountiful, mucosal production to create petroleum-free plastics and super-strong fabrics, Discovery News writes.
Though hagfish clothes are still only a fashionista’s dream, researchers have completed the first step in making this idea a reality. They’ve harvested slime from the fish, dissolved it in liquid and reassembled its structure in a process not unlike spinning silk.
The slime is composed of a special protein belonging to the same family as bone and nails. It’s released from glands along the sides of the fish’s tube-like body. The slime smells like dirty seawater and feels like snot. Holding a glob of the stuff up in the air allows water to drip out of it, leaving behind a threadlike mush. The threads are 100 times smaller than a human hair, and the researchers think the concoction can eventually be woven together to produce a sustainable material with the same strength as nylon or plastic.
Harvesting the slime directly from the fish probably isn’t the most efficient means of producing hagfish thread, however, and the researchers envision transplanting the animal’s mucus-making genes into bacteria, which could then be cultured on an industrial scale. Until then, the fashion industry will have to make due with ho-hum silk worms, or perhaps spiders, for their animal thread needs.
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