The hagfish is one of the oldest and most unpleasant creatures on the planet but scientists may have found a use for its gross ability to produce slime.
Whenever they are touched or feel threatened, Hagfish rapidly produce slime from glands on the side of their body. This means that any would-be-attacker is covered in the sticky gunk and suffocates before it has time to hurt the eel-like fish, reports the Daily Mail.
However, quite how they did this has baffled scientists for decades.
But now scientists in Switzerland have unravelled exactly how the marine animal manages to produce this disgusting defensive response, and they want to recreate the process in the hope of making new super-absorbant materials that can be used in plasters or babies’ nappies.
In a new study, which was published in the journal, ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering, it’s been revealed that the fish is capable of turning the surrounding water into slime.
Dr Simon Kuster, a researcher in the department of Health Sciences and Technology at ETH Zurich, is leading the rather gross investigation.
As a chemist and material scientist, I couldn’t help but wonder what this slime consists of and what factors allow [it] to immobilize such enormous amounts of water.
Kuster says the slime is made of two main components, threads of protein between 15 to 30cm long (6 to 12 inches) and mucin, which is basically snot. Lovely…
The threads are similar to spider silk, incredibly tough and elastic when moist, and the mucin sits between them, making them slimy.
When the hagfish becomes threatened, it secretes both the mucin and the protein threads through specialised glands running along its sides.
When they come into contact with the cold sea water, they form a sticky net which absorbs and traps water.
Interestingly, they found that the slime is mainly water, with just one per cent made up of protein.
The group are now working on generating their own version of the hagfish slime, which could be used as an alternative to plastics made from oil.
They say new types of hydrogels that are able to absorb water in this way could be useful in a range of applications including disposable nappies, plasters or even irrigation systems for farming. Best of all, the hagfish’s slime is eco-friendly and won’t hurt the environment.
Some researchers have even suggested that the fibres produced by the hagfish could be used to make textiles as well.
So, who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll all be walking round in hagfish made clothes. What a time to be alive!