A team of biologists and engineers at Chapman University, working with colleagues from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Guelph, found that the slime produced by hagfish has much greater occlusive strength than other types of thickening agents. The work was published in Interface Journal of the Royal Society.
Hagfish is an eel-shaped marine fish that is notorious for producing slime as a defense mechanism. Hagfish secrete large amounts of milky or fibrous mucus or mucus from about 100 glands that run along its sides. When provoked or attacked, they release huge amounts of slime, which thickens the water around them and drives away predators by plugging its gills. In this new effort, the researchers wondered how effective the slime produced by the fish would be compared to other thickening agents.
To test the slime, which also has silk-like fibers mixed into it, the researchers put samples in a sieve in their lab, dumped water over it, and then timed it to see how long it would take for the water to pass through. They also tried to dissolve clay samples in water before putting them through their sieves. Next, they did the same thing with three popular thickening agents: polyethylene oxide, psyllium husk, and xanthan gum.
By looking at the numbers, the research team found that hagfish mucus was much better at clogging sieve pores than any of the thickening agents. More specifically, they found that the amount was two to three times better. They also found that they could get the same pore-clogging effect as thickeners by applying up to 1,000 times less hagfish slime.
The team then turned their attention to the strands in the slime—when they removed them from a sample, they saw no difference in clogging ability, but they did discover that the fibers enhanced the slime’s ductility, keeping the slime from drifting apart in repeated tests. .
Luke Taylor et al, Mechanisms of gill obstruction by slime Interface Journal of the Royal Society (2023). DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2022.0774
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