U.S. Navy wants to ‘weaponize slime’ to stop enemy ships

Whether it’s autonomous ships with no crew or ultra-strong underwater glue inspired by mussels, the U.S. Navy has some pretty intriguing research projects. Their latest? Weaponized slime, capable of being fired at enemy vessels to stop them in their tracks.

The synthetic slime is being created by a team of researchers at Utah State University, who have been awarded a 15-month Navy contract to carry out the work. It is based on the slime of a real, eel-like creature called a hagfish, which defends itself against would-be attackers by using a jet of slime to fill predators’ mouths and gills with goo. This slime swells up by a factor of several thousand when it comes into contact with sea water.

“We are attempting to create hagfish thread keratins synthetically,” Justin Jones, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Utah State University, told Digital Trends. “Hagfish thread keratins, in their native form, rival spider silk in their mechanical properties. The problem is that farming hagfish for these threads is likely impossible. That necessitates producing the individual proteins that comprise the thread keratin using another host system. We have chosen to produce the proteins in E. coli due to our group’s experience, the economics of scaling the process, as well as the robust amount of protein produced in this system.”

Once the slime proteins have been manufactured using modified E. coli bacteria, they will then have to be formed into fibers. For this, the team will rely on their previous experience “wet spinning” spider silk proteins to develop a method for re-creating the hagfish thread keratin fibers. The goal is to create a synthetic fiber comparable to its native counterpart.

At present, the U.S. Navy stops boats — such as those it suspects contain smugglers — by firing a plastic rope with a pneumatic launcher, designed to tangle in the boat’s propeller. The hope is that this new method could prove to be safer, more effective, and less likely to injure the occupants of the other vessel.

Before you start getting concerned about the possible polluting effects of firing massive amount of slime into the water like an oil spill — yes, they’ve thought of that, too.

“Hagfish thread keratins are comprised of protein and protein alone,” Jones continued. “Therefore they do not contribute to plastic waste problems in the world’s waterways. With mechanical properties that outperform some petroleum-based polymers, they are an ideal biomaterial to use to deploy in order to stop maritime vessels without causing further pollution.”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: DIY smartphones and zip-on bike tires

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in October, from 'The Witch’ to ‘Black Panther’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, subdued humor, or anything in between.
Wearables

A strap for everyone: The best Apple Watch bands you can buy right now

If you have an Apple Watch, you know how easy it is to take off the strap it came with, so why not buy yourself another one? Here we've gathered the best Apple Watch bands we've seen so far and there's something for everyone.
Gaming

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.
Wearables

Skydio’s self-flying drone now has an Apple Watch app for flight prep

Skydio's clever R1 autonomous drone now has its own Apple Watch app, making flight preparations simpler than ever. The $2,000 flying machine is now also selling at its first retail outlet — Apple Stores in North America.
Emerging Tech

Light-swallowing room promises Call of Duty fans the blackest of ops

What's it like to be in a room fully painted with the world's darkest material, Vantablack? The makers of one of the year's top video games teamed up with Vantablack scientists to find out.
Emerging Tech

Scientists created a condom that self-lubricates during sex. You’re welcome

Researchers from Boston University have invented a special coating for condoms which make them respond to bodily fluids by becoming more slippery. Here's how their new breakthrough works.
Emerging Tech

Are e-cigarettes safe? Here’s what the most recent science says

Ecigarettes are widely regarded and advertised as a healthier alternative to cigarettes for people who are trying to kick the smoking habit. How safe are these cigarette alternatives? We went deep into the recent scientific literature to…
Emerging Tech

You’re so vein: Palm-based biometric system could help confirm your identity

Move over, Face ID! The next biometric security systems could rely on analyzing the unique vein patterns in your palm print. Here are some of the ways the technology could prove useful.
Emerging Tech

For only $4,950, you can get jetpack lessons from the world’s only instructor

Have you ever dreamed of flying using a jetpack? JetPack Aviation founder -- and the world's only qualified jetpack teacher -- David Mayman is now offering a day of flight instruction.
Emerging Tech

Biologists have found a hormone that could make space farming possible

Researchers have shown how space farming may be possible. By encouraging plants to excrete a certain hormone, they’ve demonstrated that crops can thrive despite challenging conditions, such as low-nutrient soil and microgravity.
Emerging Tech

Keep your holiday gift list high tech and under budget with these gadgets

Modern technology doesn't always come cheap, but there plenty of premium devices that don't carry a premium price. Whether you're looking for a streaming device or a means of capturing photos from above, our list of the best tech under $50…
Emerging Tech

When tech goes wrong: Banksy’s shredder was meant to totally destroy his artwork

Banksy's recent auction stunt was meant to totally destroy one of his most famous pieces of work, but a fault with the shredder has left the buyer with something almost certainly worth far more than the $1 million she bid for it.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.