When encountering predators, sea slugs discharge a purple ink containing Escapin which chemically resembles toxins of some venomous snakes. Among its properties, the protein causes foreign cells to lyse or explode and prevents bacteria from growing on sea hares.
Derby, whose team has sequenced, cloned and expressed Escapin, believes a natural or synthetic form of the protein could be manufactured for the marine industry as an environmentally friendly alternative to toxic heavy metals, such as copper, normally applied on materials to prevent biofilm development. Biofilm formation is the precursor to the growth of barnacles and other damaging organisms that must be removed through costly and time-consuming processes.
Derby, who has filed a provisional patent for Escapin's genetic sequence, plans to submit an academic paper for publication on the protein within the next several months. His research team includes former doctorate student and postdoctoral researcher Paul Johnson, GSU researchers Hsiuchin Yang, Phang Tai and Cynthia Kicklighter.