Here’s Why The Navy Is After This Fish’s Slimy Snot


Navy researchers are looking in an unlikely place for new technology: at the bottom of the ocean where the hagfish lives. The reason the Navy is interested in the primitive eel-looking creature has to do with its defense mechanism: Slime.

The hagfish, often referred to as the slime eel, creates a slimy substance that rapidly expands under water and allows it to escape from predators by clogging its attacker’s gills. Think of an octopus’ ink, except this is a giant cloud of snot that chokes a predator. Disgusting, but effective.

It’s this slime that has the Navy’s interest because of what it might let them do.

Dr. Ryan Kincer demonstrates the elasticity of the hagfish slime secreted from the the Pacific hagfish within the net aboard Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) Nov. 29, 2016.U.S. Navy photo by Ron Newsome

According to the Virginian-Pilot, a research team in Panama City, Florida, has re-created the slime and now is working on turning it into something useable. Some of the ideas in the works include making a material that helps protect firefighters and divers, creating an anti-shark spray, or coating ships to protect against barnacles, algae, and other aquatic life.

Related: Bomb The Whales? Air Force Weapons-Test Plan Under Fire »

While the Navy tries to figure out what it’ll do with the slime, one problem they won’t have to deal with is how to replicate it, because as it turns out it’s very simple.

Researchers at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City used the Pacific hagfish in their study, because its slime is a combination of two proteins and saltwater. To create the proteins the researchers grew them in separate petri dishes filled with E. coli bacteria, then isolated and purified them, before combining them in a centrifuge.

Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) scientist and engineers compare synthetic hagfish slime (left) and authentic Pacific hagfish slime (right) aboard NSWC PCD Nov. 29 2016. Pictured form left to right: Dr. Josh Kogot, Dr. Michelle Kincer, Dr. Ryan Kincer.U.S. Navy photo by Ron Newsome

"What's fascinating to me is just how simple in the grand scheme of things this system is,” Josh Kogot, a biochemist at Naval Surface Warfare Center said in an interview with the Virginian-Pilot. “It's really a two-protein system with seawater, and it's able to be this strong and expansive. It can expand 10,000 times in volume in milliseconds."

Depending on how the research goes, divers in the future may be swimming around in suits made coated with a layer of hagfish slime, which sounds disgusting, but is also kind of cool.

U.S. Navy photo by Ron Newsome

On Saturday, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point graduated the most diverse class in the academy's history.

Read More Show Less

PORTLAND — They are "the honored dead" for this special day each year, on Memorial Day.

But for the rest of the year, America's war dead of the 20th century can be far removed from the nation's awareness.

The final resting places of some 124,000-plus U.S. servicemen are at far-away hallowed grounds not always known to their countrymen.

They are America's overseas military cemeteries.

Read More Show Less

NEWPORT — The explosion and sinking of the ship in 1943 claimed at least 1,138 lives, and while the sea swallowed the bones there were people, too, who also worked to shroud the bodies.

The sinking of the H.M.T. Rohna was the greatest loss of life at sea by enemy action in the history of U.S. war, but the British Admiralty demanded silence from the survivors and the tragedy was immediately classified by the U.S. War Department.

Michael Walsh of Newport is working to bring the story of the Rohna to the surface with a documentary film, which includes interviews with some of the survivors of the attack. Walsh has interviewed about 45 men who were aboard the ship when it was hit.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Marine Corps photo

Editor's note: this story originally appeared in 2018

How you die matters. Ten years ago, on Memorial Day, I was in Fallujah, serving a year-long tour on the staff and conducting vehicle patrols between Abu Ghraib and Ramadi. That day I attended a memorial service in the field. It was just one of many held that year in Iraq, and one of the countless I witnessed over my 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Like many military veterans, Memorial Day is not abstract to me. It is personal; a moment when we remember our friends. A day, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “sacred to memories of love and grief and heroic youth."

Read More Show Less

Arnold Zuniga walked quickly, quietly, to the wall of the fallen and dragged his finger across the name of the childhood friend who never came back.

Read More Show Less