Research hagfish slime as a renewable fabric

Published on November 29th, 2012 | by Tina Casey

2

Natural Fish Slime Fabric Sounds Gross, But At Least It’s Renewable

November 29th, 2012 by  

 
From Canada’s University of Guelph comes the interesting news that fashionistas of the future may find themselves sporting fabrics derived from fish slime. Hagfish slime, to be precise.

hagfish slime as a renewable fabric

It’s ironic that the hagfish could play a major role in an industry characterized by constant change, since this ancient eel-like species has undergone very little change itself for the past 300 million years. However, in the search for renewable fabric alternatives to nylon, Kevlar and other petroleum-based products, the hagfish seems to be on track to come out on top.

Silk vs. Slime for the Renewable Fabric of the Future

When you think about it, wearing fish slime on your back is hardly any more gross than wearing the worm secretions known as silk.

The advantage of hagfish over silkworms is partly one of sheer productivity. When an Atlantic Hagfish is threatened it can spit out quarts of slime in a matter of mere seconds, which seems to be at least enough to make a nice scarf. Try that with a silkworm!

Of course, the raw slime is not exactly fit for use. Hagfish slime is partly composed of mucus, which we’re not interested in. The part that is really intriguing consists of tens of thousands of protein threads.

According to the University of Guelph, the threads are classified as an “intermediate filament.” Each is 100 times thinner than a human hair, but has “remarkable mechanical properties that rival those of spider silks.”


 

A Slimy Path to Artificial Spider Silk

Spider silk is outrageously strong for its weight, so much so that it has the potential to outperform petroleum-based products like Kevlar.

But, of course, unlike silkworms, spiders are notoriously hard to motivate for commercial-scale silk production. That’s where the hagfish could come in.

Researchers have been studying ways to create artificial spider silk from more cooperative renewable sources, but hagfish offer the prospect of cutting out the middleman and going straight to the source.

The research team, headed by Atsuko Negishi with co-authors from Guelph as well as McMaster and Dalhousie universities, has just published a paper showing that protein threads isolated from hagfish slime can be purified and spun into fibers. That leads to the possibility of using similar slimes from other animal proteins:

“This work is just the beginning of our efforts to apply what we have learned from animals like hagfishes to the challenge of making high-performance materials from sustainable protein feedstocks.”

So far, the researchers have found that higher levels of protein concentration yield materials with potentially useful properties. The next step is to find efficient ways to spin fibers, leading to commercial-scale production.

Big Demand for Alternative Fabric

It’s not like hagfish slime is ready for its Top Model moment any time soon, but when it does break through, it could find a whole range of uses as a renewable alternative for petroleum-based products.

Ford, for example, is pushing hard to introduce renewable and recyclable materials in upholstery and other automotive fittings that are typically made from synthetic petroleum-based materials.

The sporting goods industry is another area in which lightweight, high performance petroleum alternatives would find an eager market.

Image: Hagfish courtesy of NOAA, via wikipedia

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey 
 
Get CleanTechnica’s 1st (completely free) electric car report → “Electric Cars: What Early Adopters & First Followers Want.”
 
Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,


About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • Jim

    “Hagfish slime is partly composed of mucous…”
    Mucous what?
    The noun you want is “mucus”.

Back to Top ↑
  • Advertisements

  • Top Posts & Pages

  • Cool Cleantech Events

    Low Voltage Electrification Event, April 25-27. Detroit, Michigan (US)
    Delve deep into the benefits and challenges associated with EV power supply.

    Offshore Wind Market Development USA, May 11-12, Boston, Massachusetts (US)
    Network and establish your business in one of North America’s largest energy industries.

    Energy Storage USA, June 15-16, San Diego, California (US)
    Only event in the United States focused exclusively on the commercialization of storage.

    More details are on: Cleantech Events.

  • Advertisement

  • CleanTechnica Electric Car Report

    Electric Cars Early Adopters First Followers
  • Tesla Model 3 Review by EVANNEX

    Tesla Model 3 Review from EVANNEX
  • Tesla Model 3 Exclusive Video

    Tesla Model 3 Video
  • Tesla Model 3 Exclusive Pictures

    Tesla Model 3 Video
  • Tesla Model X Review #1 (Video)

    Tesla Model X Review from new owners Zach Shahan
  • Tesla Model X Review #2 (Pictures)

    Tesla Model X Review from Kyle Field
  • Tesla Model S Long-Term Review

    Tesla Model S Long Term Review from Kyle Field
  • Nissan LEAF Long-Term Review

    Nissan LEAF Long Term Review from Cynthia Shahan
  • Interview with Michael Liebreich

    Interview with Michael Liebreich
  • Interview with Akon (Teslas & Solar)

    Interview with Akon Tesla Model S Tesla Model X Solar Power Africa
  • Interview with Dr Nawal Al-Hosany

    Interview with Dr Nawal Al-Hosany
  • Interview with Gro Brundtland

    Gro Brundtland
  • Interview with President of Iceland

    President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson
  • Interview with Nick Sampson

    Faraday Future VP Nick Sampson
  • Interview with Dipal Barua

    Dipal Barua 1st ZFEP WInner
  • Interview with Jonathon Porritt

    Jonathon Porritt
  • Interview with Clint Wilder

    Interview with Clint Wilder
  • Interviews with Solar Impulse Pilots

    Bertrand Piccard Andre Borschberg
  • Check out more CleanTechnica Videos.

  • Join The Solar Revolution!

    Edison-solar-energy solar-energy-spill-nice-day
  • Cost of Solar Panels

    cost-of-solar-down
  • Search the IM Network


Shares