PANAMA CITY, Fla. — It looks and feels a lot like snot, but Navy researchers believe slime produced by the primitive hagfish could help save lives.
The bottom-dwelling hagfish is commonly referred to as a slime eel because it looks like an eel and produces a slimy substance that quickly expands in water to enable it to escape from predators by clogging up an attacker’s gills.
That unique capability is what has captured the Navy’s imagination.
Its researchers believe that, by reproducing the slime, they one day could replace synthetic products derived from petroleum, such as Kevlar that’s used in bulletproof vests. It’s not just science fiction, either.
The Navy says one of its research teams in Panama City, Florida, has already re-created the material. Now it’s beginning to work on how best to turn the synthetic slime into something useful.
“From a tactical standpoint, it would be interesting to have a material that can change the properties of the water at dilute concentrations in a matter of seconds,” Ryan Kincer, a materials engineer at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City Division, said in a statement.
The Navy also envisions using the material in products to protect firefighters and divers, as an anti-shark spray, and as a coating for ships to protect against algae, barnacles and other aquatic life that typically attach to them. Eventually, some products derived from the slime could work their way into the private sector.
Naval Surface Warfare Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) scientist and engineers demonstrate the elasticity of the hagfish slime secreted from the Pacific hagfish in a lab aboard NSWC PCD Nov. 29, 2016. Pictured from left to right: Dr. Josh Kogot, Dr. Michelle Kincer and Dr. Ryan Kincer.
Photo Credit: Ron Newsome/Navy
While there are several varieties of hagfish — frequently called one of the world’s ugliest species — Navy researchers used the Pacific hagfish in their slime-duplication efforts. That’s because the Pacific hagfish has already been genetically sequenced.
Josh Kogot, a biochemist at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City Division, said in a telephone interview that using…