US Navy considers weaponizing hagfish slime

June 6, 2022 |

In Florida, researchers at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama are evaluating the use of hagfish slime—a unique goo that can swell to 10,000 times its original size—to clog the propellors of enemy ships. 

The creepy creature squirts the slime into the gills of would-be predators.  Just 90 mg of slime can become a liter once it comes into contact with seawater.  

“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,” materials engineer Ryan Kincer tells military publication SOFREP 

Hagfish slime is comprised of  two proteins, thread and mucin. The coiled thread acts like a spring that unravels in contact with seawater. When the hagfish releases this goo, the mucin binds with water that then constrains the flow between the channels made by the dispersion of the thread. “The interaction between the thread, mucin, and seawater creates a three-dimensional, viscoelastic network,” Kincer adds. “Over time, the thread begins to collapse on itself, causing the slime to slowly dissipate.”

Kincer and biochemist Josh Kogot recreated the biomaterial using E. coli to produce the alpha and gamma proteins that they assembled in a crosslinking solution. 

Kogot says there are applications beyond propellor plugging. “[T]he synthetic hagfish slime may be used for ballistics protection, firefighting, anti-fouling, diver protection, or anti-shark spray. The possibilities are endless,” he adds. 

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Category: Chemicals & Materials

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