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Stopping smuggler’s boats or enemy vessels can sometimes be a complex challenge. Currently, the US Navy stops boats particularly suspected smugglers by using a pneumatic launcher that fires a plastic rope designed to get tangled up in the boat’s propeller. But it is not very environmentally-friendly and is hard to disentangle once fired.

The Navy has initiated an intriguing research project that will deter enemy ships and smuggler’s boats using super expanding slime aimed at the the vessels’ propulsion system, according to

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.

Based on the slime of a real, eel-like creature called a hagfish, it defends itself against attackers by using a jet of slime to fill predators’ mouths and gills with goo. This slime swells up several thousand times when it comes into contact with sea water.

“We are attempting to create hagfish thread keratins synthetically. The problem is that farming hagfish for these threads is likely impossible necessitating producing individual proteins that comprise thread keratin. 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,” as Justin Jones, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Utah State University told

Once the slime proteins have been manufactured using modified E. coli bacteria, they will be formed into synthetic 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.

What is left to find out is whether the new method will be more efficient than the current one.