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Fine clothes could be made from slimy hagfish threads

Image of a hagfish
This file photo shows a bottom-dwelling hagfish. Researchers are investigating how to make strong fibers using proteins from their gelatinous secretions.Paddy Ryan /

When threatened, ancient bottom-dwelling marine creatures known as hagfish can produce a milk-jug’s worth of gelatinous slime containing mucous and tens of thousands of protein threads. Researchers are investigating how to harvest those threads for use as petroleum-free textiles.

The protein threads secreted in the mucous of the ell-like hagfish have mechanical properties that rival those of spider silk, which is exceptionally strong for its weight and has the potential to out-perform petroleum-derived products such as Kevlar.

The problem with spiders is they “cannot be farmed to yield high quantities of silk,” Atsuko Negishi, a research assistant in the integrative biology department at the University of Guelph, said in a news release.  She’s leading the effort to make silky fibers from hagfish slime.

Her current research shows it is possible to make “macroscopic” materials using proteins isolated from the slime. This isn’t enough to make the sort of fashionable bullet-proof body armor executives and celebrities wear on the streets of Bogotá, Colombia, but it’s a start.

Going forward, the team plans to study how to scale up production, as well as investigate how to use other hagfish proteins to make materials for medicine and industry. 

A paper on the research appeared earlier this fall in the journal Bio Macromolecules.

 via Clean Technica 

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.