Hagfish, the fibre of the future that could replace nylon

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Who could ever imagine wearing clothes made of fish snot? This innovation has more than one trick up its sleeve and could attract the attention of the big names in eco-responsible textiles! The mucus produced by fish called hagfish could be used to create very resistant clothing and an environmentally friendly dynamic in the textile industry.

What is hagfish?

The hagfish is primarily a sea snake as old as the dinosaurs themselves, that’s for sure! It has no jaws and no backbone and looks vaguely like a sea eel. However, it has developed a unique system of secretion of a particular mucus via the 150 pores scattered throughout its body. Its primary purpose is to defend itself against potential predators. It is then an incredibly resistant and viscous mucus that appears to obstruct the mouth and gills of the enemy. This mucus then attracts many researchers for its incredible and unprecedented properties, particularly in the textile industry.

La myxine, une incroyable créature qui fabrique du "slime" pour échapper à  ces prédateurs
Photo credit: maxi sciences website

Hagfish properties and benefits

A team of researchers from the University of Guelph in Canada has demonstrated the many properties of natural hagfish fibre. They compare these fibres to those of Kevlar, which is used in bulletproof vests and is known to be an ultra-resistant material. Odourless, colourable, biodegradable and ultra-resistant, these eco-responsible fibres are comparable to silk, once dried. Environmentally friendly hagfish fibres represent a new field of possibilities for the textile industry of tomorrow. They are a possible substitute for synthetic and polluting materials such as polyester and nylon. However, a lot of work needs to be done on the way the mucus is collected.

The process of making hagfish

Indeed, it is complicated for the moment to produce this ecological textile material because hagfish breeding is prohibited: it is a species in danger of extinction. The same team of researchers would like to develop a completely new production process by transferring the filament gene into bacteria. This would make it possible to avoid harvesting and manipulating living hagfish. We now know that the glands of a single fish can produce about a million kilometres of yarn, which could be the next innovative textile material!


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