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Comparative Biomaterials Lab | Comparative Physiology @ Guelph

Comparative Biomaterials Lab


From left to right: Mark Bernards, Tim Winegard, Julia Herr, Oualid Haddad, Isdin Oke, Nicole Pinto, Douglas Fudge, Ethan Buchman, Atsuko Negishi, Cecilia Boutry. Photo by Jordan Klaiman.                          


Welcome to the Comparative Biomaterials Lab at the University of Guelph led by Dr. Douglas Fudge. We study a wide range of materials made by animals, including nano-scale filaments within cells, slimes secreted to ward off predators, and large tissue-based materials like the keratinous plates of baleen whales.


We are also interested in applying what we learn from the study of biomaterials to real-life problems faced by modern societies, such as how can we make high performance materials for industry that are more eco-friendly in their manufacture and disposal? Animals make materials to suit their needs without the benefit of petroleum and without fouling their environment, and we believe that humans could do the same if we listen to the lessons biology has to teach. 

Photo by Andra Zommers


For information about current research in our lab as well as opportunities for joining our group, see the links to the left.


*Lab News*

Congratulations to G-J Won, whose manuscript on the contribution of the actomyosin network to chick lens mechanics was recently accepted for publication in Molecular Vision


Congratulations to Tim Winegard, whose manuscript was published in Nature Communications! See below for one of the more stunning images from the paper.




And here is a movie showing exactly how the slime thread is coiled within a thread cell:




And here is a movie of the image stack used to create the 3D model above.





Check out an excellent (and entertaining!) article by Matt Simon at on the wonderful world of hagfishes, featuring some of our work on hagfish slime.


Congratulations to Julia Herr, whose paper (in collaboration with Greg Goss and Alex Clifford) on hagfish slime mucin vesicles was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Below is a video of mucin vesicles rupturing in one of Julia's custom flow chambers. You can download the pdf of her paper in the Publications link to the left.



Congratulations to Isdin Oke and Mark Bernards, whose undergraduate thesis projects led to a paper that was recently published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The paper is on the mechanism of unraveling in Pacific hagfish slime thread skeins. You can see a movie of the process below or download the pdf in the Publications section. Mark and Isdin's work was also featured on the National Geographic website, which you can see here.






Congratulations to Grace Niewijk, a high school student from Illinois whose science fair project on hagfish slime was overseen by Dr. Fudge, and won first place at the Chicago Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, allowing her to advance to the national competition in Washington, D.C. in April.


A few years ago, Julia Herr defended her M.Sc. thesis and her parents celebrated her accomplishment with a hagfish cake (scroll down to see a picture). M.Sc. student Sarah Schorno recently celebrated her birthday in similar style, with this fabulous cake commissioned by her parents (and made by Guelph company I'm told it was red velvet and tasted a lot better than it looked. I think it is fair to say that our website is now the epicenter for all searches containing the words "hagfish" and "cake."


Congratulations to Nicole Pinto, whose paper "Self-assembly enhances the strength of fibers made from vimentin intermediate filament proteins" is now published in Biomacromolecules. You can find the pdf in the Publications link to the left.


Congratulations to Jennifer Gleason, whose undergraduate research on the ecomechanics of autotomy in damselfly larvae was recently published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. You can find out more from the paper itself or the Inside JEB article (and cartoon!) linked below.


Research in the Fudge lab was featured on PBS's Making Stuff with David Pogue on Oct 23 at 9 pm. Here is a trailer for the season in which Julia Herr and Atsuko Negishi make star appearances.






The Fudge and Gillis labs were featured in the Fall 2013 issue of The Portico, the Guelph alumni magazine. Click here for a link to the online article.


Click here to read an article on the BBC News website on hagfish slime research in the Fudge Lab.


And here to listen to an ABC news story on our research.


A crew from the PBS show Nova and host David Pogue were in the Fudge Lab on March 18 filming a piece on hagfish, hagfish slime, and our research on protein fibres. David Pogue tweeted this picture of himself and Julia Herr in the lab. Both of them seem equally disturbed by the slime (even though Julia has been working with hagfish for over four years now).



Listen to a great radio piece by Anna Rothschild on PRI's The World about our hagfish slime research. 


Atsuko Negishi's biomimetic project on making artificial protein fibers from hagfish slime thread proteins was recently featured on the Canadian science news show Daily Planet. Click here to watch.


See below for a movie of a Pacific hagfish (Eptatretus stoutii) being eaten by an elephant seal at a depth of about 900 meters. Videos published last year by Zintzen et al. (see below) showed that several species of predatory fishes, including sharks, are unable to prey on hagfishes because of their defensive slime. The video below shows, as we suspected from stomach content data, that marine mammals have no problems preying on hagfish.




Postdoc Atsuko Negishi's recent paper on making materials from proteins harvested from hagfish slime has been getting lots of attention since it was featured on the American Chemical Society's website. Sites such as New Scientist, NPR's Science FridayScientific AmericanDiscovery News,, Conservation MagazineCNET, Science News, Canadian Chemical NewsCleanTechnicaNBC News, GizmagLiveScience, and the Waterloo Record have all published pieces on her research. Below is a video of the method that Atsuko developed that is described in detail in the paper.




Congratulations to postdoc Oualid Haddad, who recently was in Ottawa to receive the prestigious Mitacs Postdoctoral Award for Outstanding Research Achievement! You can see the Mitacs press release here, and an interview with Oualid here


Hagfish slime was featured on a recent episode of the BBC show Richard Hammond's Miracles of Nature. Much of the background information from this piece is based on our research. You can watch the episode here (the part on hagfish starts at about 17:00).




Congratulations to Dan Greenberg for the publication of a paper based on his undergraduate research in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.  Using data he collected from a variety of mammalian keratins including whale baleen, rhinoceros horn, racoon hair, horse hair, echidna quill, and human hair, Dan investigated the function of matrix proteins in the hydration and mechanics of mammalian keratins. You can download the pdf from our Publications page.


A crew from the BBC was in the Fudge Lab in August filming hagfish and slime for the show "Nature's Weirdest."


Congratulations to Julia Herr, who successfully defended her M.Sc. thesis on May 24. The title of her thesis is "Mechanisms of Rupture of Mucin Vesicles from the Slime of Pacific Hagfish (Eptatretus stoutii): Roles of Inorganic Ions and Aquaporin Water Channels." See below for a picture of the amazing hagfish cake that Julia's mother made for her to celebrate the occasion!


Undergraduate researcher Isdin Oke was accepted to Harvard Medical School, where he will begin in August. Congratulations, Isdin!


Dr. Fudge was one of 13 speakers at the TEDx Conference held at the University of Guelph on February 12. The title of his talk was "The rhyme scheme of paradigm-busting science."


For the final project of her 4th year photography  course, undergraduate Sharlene Laros spent some time in the Fudge Lab taking photographs of histological slides of baleen cross-sections using light microscopy. Below is a picture of Sharlene exhibiting her photo-transparency light boxes as well as some close-ups of photos from the exhibit.


Check out a fantastic paper on hagfish behaviour by Vincent Zintzen and colleagues in Nature Scientific Communications. The videos of hagfish being attacked by a variety of predators (including several shark species) and repelling them with their slime are  truly amazing. Here is the link: Zintzen V., Roberts, C.D., Anderson M.J., Stewart A.L., Struthers C.D. & Harvey E.S. (2011) Hagfish predatory behaviour and slime defence mechanism. Scientific Reports 1, 131  



The Fudge Lab, along with Jamie Miller (from Guelph) and Carl Hastrich (from the Ontario College of Art and Design) recently hosted a class of high school students from Centennial C.V.I. in Guelph for a day-long workshop on Biomimicry and Bioinspired Design. The students, along with their teacher, Doug Gajic, heard about Biomimcry as an approach to design and they also heard about the research going on in the Fudge Lab on hagfish slime and whale baleen. They spent a good part of the day brainstorming about how the unique aspects of these biomaterials and structures might be applied to modern design challenges. Most importantly, they had a chance to experience hagfish slime firsthand (see below!).



*Graduate Students*

We are always interested in hearing from talented students and postdocs who wish to join the lab.


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