Researchers say the lowly hagfish and the slime it secretes from its pores has the potential to provide underwater protection for humans. The hagfish can also be turned into products that could be worn, or even eaten. Once you get past the creature’s disturbing appearance and the slime, this ancient creature has a lot to teach scientists.
The hagfish uses its teeth to feed on decaying creatures on the ocean floor, much as worms do in dirt.
Because hagfish slime is mostly water, it can expand up to 10,000 times its original volume when water is added. When expanded, the slime forms a matrix, or spider web like structure in the water. Wey-Haas says scientists currently don’t know why the slime behaves the way it does.
But scientists do believe hagfish slime could be used to create eco fabrics, food alternatives, and a kind of gelatin that would not require heating.
Naval researchers hope the material can be used to protect humans underwater. Divers could use the slime the way the hagfish does – to ward off enemies. Like pepper spray, the slime clogs the gills of oncoming predators. Scientists hope to create a synthetic version of hagfish slime to protect divers, Wey-Haas says.
“All of the research right now … is fairly early on in terms of their goals,” Wey-Haas says. “They’re all thinking very big about what they want to eventually do. I just think it’s really charming, although I don’t know if you can really say anything else about the hagfish is charming. But … anything about bio-inspired design is just fascinating.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.