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Forget Gore-Tex – the next big synthetic fabric could be based on hagfish slime

By

November 29, 2012

Who wouldn't want to wear clothing inspired by these guys?

Who wouldn't want to wear clothing inspired by these guys?

Hagfish are super-slimy eel-like fish that live on the sea floor, where they feed on the carcasses of other sea creatures. Before you start disliking them too much, however, take note – synthetic fabrics of the future may be inspired by their slime.

While it’s normal for fish to have a protective slime coating, hagfish are particularly gifted in that department. They can produce quarts of unusually thick slime within seconds, to thwart attacks by other animals. That slime is made up of tens of thousands of tiny threads of protein, each of them one one-hundredth the diameter of a human hair.

A team led by Atsuko Negishi, a scientist from Canada’s University of Guelph, has succeeded in combining a number of these threads into fibers not unlike spider silk – a substance that is itself known for its remarkable strength, among other desirable properties. The fibers were created by laying a film of the protein threads over the surface of a salt solution, then grabbing that film with forceps and lifting it upwards. As the film rose, the threads collapsed together into a single strand.

Although you may not be seeing hagfish slime jackets in a store near you just yet, Negishi believes that the protein threads could serve as a model for synthetic fibers made from renewable, naturally-occurring proteins – this could result in fabrics that are less costly and more eco-friendly than current petroleum-based synthetic fabrics.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Biomacromolecules.

Source: American Chemical Society

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
3 Comments

Will your hagfish slime jacket cover assailants with slime when you're attacked. Could be a very handy property.

BundyGil
29th November, 2012 @ 11:34 pm PST

Can you picture the world's supermodels strutting the catwalk dressed in Hag? Yeah me too. It's got a ring to it...

nutcase
1st December, 2012 @ 12:00 am PST

Wool works pretty good for me but it smells like sheep, probably better than fish though.

Mark A
4th December, 2012 @ 10:32 pm PST
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