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Biotech Canada Science Idle

Hagfish Slime Could Make Super-Strong Clothes 82

Posted by samzenpus
from the fabric-of-your-deep-sea-life dept.
Having the ability to create a 20 liter cloud of slime and tie themselves in knots, hagfish have always been one of my favorite deep-sea denizens. Being a living slime dispenser has not won the species many fans however, with the notable exceptions of Mike Rowe and Dr. Egon Spengler. All that is about to change thanks to the work of a research team at Canada’s University of Guelph. They've found that hagfish slime might be used to make new plastics and even super-strong fabrics. From the article: "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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Hagfish Slime Could Make Super-Strong Clothes

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  • What about rain? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JDeane (1402533) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @02:48PM (#42206313) Journal

    I am not sure I want my new shirt to turn back into slime if it gets wet...

    P.S. This post is a joke.

    • What about rain? I am not sure I want my new shirt to turn back into slime if it gets wet.

      P.S. This post was NOT a joke.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      In some cases that could be a good thing. :-)

    • How about Natalie Portman, Dressed in hagfish fabric and petrified and dissolved with hot grits?

    • Wet T-Shirt Competition

  • The article makes the astounding claim that this animal "hasn’t evolved for 300 million years". Sounds like hogwash to me, but is there any indication that this is true?

    • That's not all that astounding of a claim, there are many such organisms that have not changed much for many tens and hundreds of millions of years. They are often called Living Fossils [wikipedia.org]. Examples include the nautilus, crocodiles, horseshoe crabs, and the hagfish as in TFA.

      They determine this by examining fossils from a wide range of geological time frames and see that present day organisms are virtually unchanged from whats in the fossil record.

      • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @04:12PM (#42207551)
        You don't know that they haven't changed much. You can only tell that the general morphology (often just the skeleton) of a fossil find matches a modern animal. What does it tell you about the rest? Organs, biochemistry, innate behaviour?
        • by TheLink (130905)
          Immune systems for some of these creatures might have changed too.

          But the horseshoe crabs immune system might not have changed much (there might be some tweaks for new fungi and bacteria, but the general mechanism is still probably the same).
        • by cellocgw (617879)

          You don't know that they haven't changed much. You can only tell that the general morphology (often just the skeleton) of a fossil find matches a modern animal. What does it tell you about the rest?

          Yeah, I hear the hagfish used to play draw poker but over 20 million years switched to Texas Hold... errr... Fin-Em.

    • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @03:13PM (#42206655) Homepage

      The article makes the astounding claim that this animal "hasn't evolved for 300 million years". Sounds like hogwash to me, but is there any indication that this is true?

      Sure, fossil records. Let's go with NOAA [noaa.gov] since they're fairly well respected:

      Hagfish is considered to be the most primitive vertebrate species either living or extinct (Collette and Klein-MacPhee 2002, Powell et al 2005). Hagfish evolved over at least 300 million years and have the same basic morphological traits of fossilized specimens (Bardack 1991).

      And, then there's Berkeley [berkeley.edu]:

      The only fossil hagfish is Myxinikela siroka, a Pennsylvanian find from the Francis Creek Shale of northeastern Illinois (Bardack, 1991). The fossil was found within a siderite (iron carbonate) concretion, and preserves the paired tentacles, internal organs, and detail of the head and jaws. The similarity to modern hagfishes is striking, and suggests that there has been little evolutionary change in this group over the last 300 million years.

      So, yes, is there is strong evidence that the morphology of hagfish hasn't changed in 300 million years. That's not to say there has been zero changes to it, but nothing radical.

      If you can compare a modern specimen to a 300 million year old fossil and fine no differences, you pretty much conclude that it hasn't significantly evolved. Think coelacanth. Think crocodilians. Think MPAA. ;-)

    • by wrong (27761)

      They may not have changed noticeably, but that doesn't mean they haven't changed. You'd have to sequence a fossil and compare DNA to be sure.

      I've met some evolutionary biologists who get rather tetchy when people throw around the terms "less evolved" or "more evolved". They seem to prefer talking about adapting to an environment over 'onwards-and-upwards' pinnacle-of-creation rhetoric. I suspect they would say the critter is just as evolved and evolving as anything else, just not much changed by it - presum

      • by tsa (15680)

        This. Every species alive has evolved for as long as it exists on this planet. Some change more than other but they all have to adapt to changing environments.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I think crocks and gators haven't evolved in something like 100 million, so a fish not evolving for three times as long doesn't sound too far fetched to me.

    • Not to mention Archaea, which doesn't seem to have evolved in billions of years.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaea

      Clue: Archaea are the organisms that makes oil from methane.
  • Sounds like politicians trying to justify their positions.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 06, 2012 @02:58PM (#42206451)

    The rebranding necessary for this to sound appealing will be a joy to watch.

    • by Spectre (1685)

      The rebranding necessary for this to sound appealing will be a joy to watch.

      I agree, but it didn't seem to be that difficult for silk garments:

      "Fabric made from worm spit!"*

      *Okay, not quite spit, not quite worms, but it would be the layperson's interpretation if they were to see the process of a silkworm spinning its cocoon.

      • Just give it a brand name. Heck, it worked for Twinkies and some people even ate those.

        Ocean Silk could work quite well, though it would probably have a more dissociative name - Rymplon, for example.

      • by Dekker3D (989692)

        Most things around us, including the keyboard I'm currently typing on, are made out of processed, long-dead and rotten animals. So yeah. Some clothes are made out of that lovely stuff too.

      • by drkim (1559875)

        The rebranding necessary for this to sound appealing will be a joy to watch.

        I agree, but it didn't seem to be that difficult for silk garments

        ...or the flower industry:

        "Tell her you love her... Give her the gift of a bundle of the hacked-off genitalia of another species!"

      • by TheLink (130905)

        FWIW some people actually eat silkworms: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CD0lk4M3aCI [youtube.com]

        Many of us eat honey and like it. Then there are eggs and bacon. Some of us like eating grass seeds that are crushed, mixed with water and then allowed to ferment, then baked.

        Then there's sausage and worse: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanically_separated_meat [wikipedia.org]
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_slime [wikipedia.org]

        So just give it a new name and people won't care.

    • by Jeng (926980)

      What do they call it when they eat it in Korea?

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Delicious!

    • Myxinilon© Fiber

    • It's your classic tale of ... Hags to Ritches

    • Well, the Chilean Sea Bass was originally called the Patagonian Toothfish, and Mahi was originally called Dolphinfish.

      I think they'll work something out.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patagonian_toothfish
  • by Solandri (704621) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @03:12PM (#42206629)
    Synthetics like nylon are generally made by going down the energy gradient. That is, you start with something high in energy like petroleum, then run it through a bunch of chemical reactions which use up bits of the energy contained therein to make your synthetic fiber. This works because the energy gradient makes the raw chemicals want to combine the way you want them to, and all you have to do is mix them in the right amounts at the right time (and sometimes right temperature and pressure).

    Naturals like silk and cotton go up the energy gradient. Start with raw materials, add energy, and build the fibers out of sugars (cellulose - cotton) or proteins (silk). If you mix a bunch of the raw ingredients in a beaker, they won't combine they way you want them to because it's going up the energy gradient. You need little machines which take energy and combine the materials in the shape you want. Our nano-technology isn't good enough yet to compete with nature''s nano-technology, so it's easier to have plants and animals do the nano-assembly and just harvest the final product.

    Unless the fibers from hagfish slime buck the trend and go down the energy gradient, they're unlikely to replace synthetics. All you'll end up doing is raising hagfish on a farm to harvest their slime, which you refine into these fibers. Production capacity will be limited by the number of hagfish you can raise, as opposed to synthetics whose production is limited by the raw materials you can acquire. In other words, don't expect this to replace plastics unless hagfish turn out to be extraordinarily easy to farm in huge numbers.
    • by Jeng (926980)

      In other words, don't expect this to replace plastics unless hagfish turn out to be extraordinarily easy to farm in huge numbers.

      I have no doubt that they would be ridiculously easy to farm. They may be slightly harder to farm than cockroaches.

    • by RKThoadan (89437)

      They mentioned that farming it from the fish in adequate amounts would difficult. They hope to graft the slime production into bacteria for mass production.

    • Two points to note: We *are* running out of raw materials for synthetics, as they are made using crude oil. And the hagfish slime fabric would likely first replace similar natural fabrics such as silk.

      With those points in mind, I think hagfish harvesting might just be economically viable. At least we've finally found a use for the disgusting things.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...or is that just hagfish slime?

  • Somehow I can't quite see that catching on.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yes but
      Green - 100% Organic and Renewable Highly Durable Poseidon Thread Khaki's by Atlantis Wear only available at "The Gap" would do quite well.
      Atlantis Wear improving on technology 300 million years in devlopment

    • by HCase (533294)

      A common theme in the fish world is to be given an ugly name until someone finds a good use for you.(though, generally the use is eating)

      slimehead->orange roughy
      rockfish->pacific red snapper
      dogfish->rock salmon
      pilchard->cornish sardine
      etc...

  • The fish needs a better name if this does take off, Hagfish is not viable from a marketing standpoint. Also the slime needs a more scientific name: Hagis Slimus shirts anyone?
    • The fish needs a better name if this does take off, Hagfish is not viable from a marketing standpoint. Also the slime needs a more scientific name: Hagis Slimus shirts anyone?

      You obviously don't work in marketing, here: Slilk

  • let me know when i can buy tights/pants for my kid using this.

    you can be raising the fruffiest Princess Ever but if she trips while skipping down the lane those tights are TOAST

    Slash Parents can i get a

    SO SAY WE ALL
    ?

    • by Nyder (754090)

      let me know when i can buy tights/pants for my kid using this.

      you can be raising the fruffiest Princess Ever but if she trips while skipping down the lane those tights are TOAST

      Slash Parents can i get a

      SO SAY WE ALL
      ?

      Tripping and scraping up knees is a valuable part of childhood. It teaches you to pay attention to what you are doing and to dress properly for every occasion.

      • yes true but not having nasty bits of rock jammed into ones knees (and having scarred up skin on her knees) would be a good thing.

        It would still HURT but it would be a lot less nasty

  • What happened to hemp? I could support hemp.

    Having the ability to create a 20 liter cloud of slime and tie themselves in knots, hagfish have always been one of my favorite deep-sea denizens.

    Your fetishes are not really appropriate for a public forum.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      What happened to hemp? I could support hemp.

      It's expensive to produce a fabric which is almost as nice as cotton, and it's a heavy feeder (the morons like Jack Herer (RIP) who claim it doesn't deplete the soil know jack about shit and fuck about all) and efficient production requires cultivation equipment which nobody makes (though they did for a short while, see Hemp for Victory) so it's just expensive to no good end at this point.

      On the other hand, cotton crops worldwide are going tits up due to climate change, so we might all be wearing a lot of i

  • ...you had me at "Egon"
  • by RemyBR (1158435) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @05:40PM (#42208903) Homepage

    Since I was curious about the hagfish, looked up and found this video, showing it using its slime: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfyq4Zhr5Y8 [youtube.com]

  • Smells like ..... hagfish.

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