How A Scavenger’s Slime Could Replace Lycra And Spandex
The hagfish produces a substance that consists of very thin, strong and stretchy fibers. Scientists believe lab-created simulations could eventually be woven into thin and flexible garments, and provide a sustainable alternative to synthetic fabrics.
Scientists at the University of Guelph are currently touting the defense mechanisms of hagfish, a scavenger species that lives on the ocean floor. The creatures, which predate the dinosaurs, have no jaws or spines but are capable of producing copious quantities of slime, which helps protect it from predators. This highly-condensed substance contains fibers that are very thin but also very strong and flexible. The team is now looking at how to turn those fibers into a thread that could be used to create lightweight and stretchy garments.
What’s the Big Idea?
The materials currently used in such garments — nylon, Lycra, and spandex — are made from oil, making them ultimately unsustainable. Hagfish slime could provide an eco-friendly alternative, but only if they were able to be farmed successfully, and so far no one has even gotten the species to breed in captivity. This is why part of the team is working on sidestepping the hagfish entirely by making an artificial version of its slime proteins in the lab. If they succeed in creating a stable thread, they hope to work with textile companies to put fabrics and garments out on the market.