Pacific hagfish (Eptatretus stouti) can absorb organic nutrients directly from the water by utilizing the gill and skin as transport surfaces; a unique strategy among vertebrates. Hagfish are scavengers, and their food availability is spatially and temporally dispersed, so such a strategy helps to maximize nutritive intake when burrowing into dead and decomposing animals.
Chris Glover, Tamzin Blewett, and Chris Wood report in their recent publication, “Novel Route of Toxicant Exposure in an Ancient Extant Vertebrate: Nickel Uptake by Hagfish Skin and the Modifying Effects of Slime” (see link below) that at low concentrations, nickel uptake was reduced by the slime but not at higher concentrations. Zinc uptake occurs across hagfish skin, but was also impaired by slime. The slime does not, however, impair the uptake of an organic amino acid (L-alanine).
Their results suggest that hagfish slime acts as a selective filter allowing the passage of key nutrients across the skin, but impairing the transport of trace elements that may cause toxicity at relatively elevated levels.
Feature Image: ‘River Monsters’ host Jeremy Wade contemplating a hagfish during filming for the “Prehistoric Terror” episode.
Research Coordinator, Dr. Eric Clelland, provided “excellent research support” to the authors.