Swiss Scientists Study Slimy Hagfish Gels

By on January 25, 2016

Nature is full of a lot of amazing and eye-opening things. Take fish gels for example. Until now, no one’s really heard of fish secreting gels to defend themselves. But, according to researchers at ETH Zurich, the hagfish is one fish species that can do it.

Why would a fish need to secrete such a thing? Well, for the hagfish, which hails from the Atlantic Ocean, its gels form a thick and sludgy network of slime that can stop a predator in its tracks. So having the ability to secrete such goo is a good thing for hagfish.

But it turns out that the fishy gel may also have a good use for humans. Scientists at the Switzerland university say that the gels the fish puts out are actually hydrogels, ultra-absorbent polymers with structures that can let them hold and retain large amounts of water.

The researchers have studied the hydrogels further and found that they’re composed of long, protein threads and a constituent of mucus. Tapping into this mixture may make it possible to improve such human endeavors as tissue engineering, drug delivery and biosensors development.

The scientists note that the hagfish slime is too complex to replicate artificially, at least at present, so anything they make in their labs will likely be less sophisticated than the real thing but still sticky nonetheless.

Scientists are looking into hagfish gels for ways to further tissue engineering. (ETH Zurich / Simon Kuster et al)

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