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On Slimy Paths

2023-01-13 | Corporate

Although there are substances that are less disgusting, slime is one of nature’s superstars. In order to be able to copy something from this all-rounder material, it must be examined precisely – with Anton Paar instruments, of course.

The complexity and biological meaning of slime are often underestimated. This may be the case because slime as material and phenomenon is difficult to grasp and see, or because it is simply disgusting. Yet slime occurs in nature in countless variations with a variety of functions: as a lubricant, as an adhesive, as a selectively permeable barrier, for defense and hunting.

Hagfish secretion as an opportunity in science
For over 300 million years, the hagfish has been living in our oceans. The serpentine animal has no bones or jaws, only a round mouth with pointed rasp teeth. And it likes carrion that accumulates on the ground of the ocean. But this primitive creature should not be underestimated because it is able to produce a super hydro gel within seconds. As soon as the hagfish is attacked by an enemy, it exudes a secretion produced in special glands, which gels within fractions of a second. This secretion is able to bind vast amounts of water, forming a transparent, viscous and sticky slime. The hagfish escapes while its attacker risks suffocation.

A research team at the Swiss Technical University Zurich examined the secretion also using Anton Paar rheometers. So far, it is known that the slime consists of almost 100 % water and only 0.004 % “gelling agent,” so the effect is more than 200 times stronger than with conventional animal gelatin. Tiny amounts of the hagfish secretion are enough for hectoliters of liquid.

Natural alternative
Most conventional gels are based on crude oil – and thus are hard to biodegrade. The secretion of the hagfish does not contain any environmentally harmful substances. The only challenge lies in keeping the gel permanently stable. If this is possible, the hagfish secretion might have a great career. The addition of the slime could make car tires, stents, or artificial gall bladders more durable. The absorbency of baby diapers could be optimized and also farmers could benefit: With the classic sprinkling technique, a lot of water evaporates over the fields. If the moisture was in the form of slime, it would be better protected and could be released more sparingly.