One of the world’s creepiest creatures may be the source of new kinds of petroleum-free plastics and super-strong fabrics, according to research by scientists in Canada studying the hagfish, a bottom-dwelling creature that hasn’t evolved for 300 million years and produces a sticky slime when threatened. The gooey material is actually a kind of protein that turns into choking strands of tough fibers when released into the water.
A research team at Canada’s University of Guelph managed to harvest the slime from the fish, dissolve it in liquid, and then reassemble its structure by spinning it like silk. It’s an important first step in being able to process the hagfish slime into a useable material, according to Atsuko Negishi, a research assistant and lead author on the paper in this week’s journal Biomacromolecules.
“We’re trying to understand how they make these threads and how we can learn from that to make protein-based fibers that have excellent mechanical properties,” Negishi said. “The first step is can we harvest the threads. It turns out that is doable.”
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