Meet the Bulletproof Snot Monster

Have you ever heard of a hagfish?  It looks not unlike an eel or, more disturbingly, a severed penis of the deep.  It sort of has a mouth but no discernible features otherwise.  It does have one notable characteristic though, and that is that the hagfish makes goo.  Lots of it.  When in distress, a hagfish can lube itself up like you wouldn’t believe, producing a substantial amount of thick, slimy grossness that is arguably a decent defense mechanism as, to a predator, it would be like suddenly having your mouth explode with fishy peanut butter, which is extra dangerous when you consider fish need clear gills to survive underwater.  And for mankind it means bulletproof vests.  Wait, what?

Turns out hagfish slime is made up of tiny fibers suspended in liquid that the gross little buggers can eject from their bodies.  These fibers are 100 times thinner than a human hair but are, relatively speaking, stronger than Kevlar.  So if you could reproduce these natural fibers somehow, you’d have a pretty effective kind of super-strong snot on your hands, literally and figuratively.  Well, congratulations to science, because they found a way to do just that.

With a little hagfish DNA to play with, scientists have bio-engineered e.coli bacteria to start producing the slime.  Why e.coli?  No idea.  Maybe so the next time you get food poisoning it gives you diarrhea even a SWAT team couldn’t take down.  Point is, the e.coli can just sit in a dish all day making super slime, which is a lot like spider silk, only much simpler in genetic terms.

Eew

What good is a world in which bulletproof slime can be grown in labs?  Well, aside from the need for body armor for military, law enforcement and people afraid of law enforcement, there’s also the potential to use it to make bio plastics and things like replacement tendons for those who have sustained injuries.  Basically any place in the world you can imagine needing a substance that’s both very strong yet very malleable.  The applications are nearly endless when you start thinking about it, and it’s all thanks to this disgusting sea snot.  Thanks, hagfish!

So what’s the deal with the fish itself?  Science doesn’t even know if it can be classified as a vertebrate since it has a skull but no spine.  It’s pretty much been the same weird monster for about 300 million years.  Oh, and it makes a lot of slime.  Like 20 liters of it per fish, or just over 5 gallons.  If you had 100 of these in a swimming pool, you’d have the grossest pool in the world.

Pictured: Delicious sweet and sour sea dongs

In case you were wondering, yes, people do eat the fish, just not often since they look so repulsive and also their eating habits aren’t the nicest ( they tend to burrow into dead fish and eat them from the inside out).  But where they are enjoyed, in Korea for instance, cooks will keep them alive in a tank and every so often give them a poke so they’ll slime the water and the slime can be used as an egg substitute in recipes.  Isn’t that horrible?  It sure is.  How does the human body react to eating this stuff?  Can’t say for sure, but I’m willing to bet it goes out an awful lot like it came in.