Protein molecules, folded so subtly, work all the enzymatic wonders of biochemistry. Heat can unfold and denature them — as all cooks know. But so can pressure. Raw egg white is opacified and hardened by a few thousand atmospheres (though it still tastes raw). Daedalus is now pondering the implications for deep-sea creatures.

A crucial problem for such creatures is to know how deep they are. Some rely on their eyes — daylight from the surface fades out with depth. Others have a swim-bladder, whose gas is compressed by the rising hydrostatic pressure as its owner sinks. But below 1 km or more, neither scheme works well. Daedalus reckons that whales, squid and other creatures who repeatedly patrol a wide vertical range exploit pressure-dependent protein folding. Some ‘barometric enzyme’ in their make-up changes its reactivity reversibly with pressure to register their depth.

So DREADCO trawlers are now lowering pressurized traps into the oceans, to snare abyssal creatures and haul them to the surface still under pressure. They will then be transferred to a pressurized aquarium for study. They, or perhaps their symbiotic and gut organisms, should harbour novel barometric enzymes which could throw new light on the protein-folding problem.

But this costly research programme has a greater goal. Daedalus argues that all the proteins of an abyssal creature must unfold somewhat in the deeps. And even if they fold again when their owner rises, very likely at least one molecule will do so wrongly. It will form a prion — and once one has formed, it will catalyse production of more prions the next time the creature dives. In the brain, proliferating prions pose a lethal threat. What protects a squid from ‘mad squid disease’?

Whatever it is, Daedalus wants to know. For we also are vulnerable to malfolded proteins, not only as the brain plaques of Alzheimer's disease and CJD, but in the slow advance of wrinkled skin and hardened eye lenses and arteries. Somewhere in abyssal biochemistry, he hopes, is the crucial refolding reagent that prevents a protein from prionizing or forming a plaque, or even hauls it back from that doom. It could be an elixir of health and youth for all mankind. Daedalus cannot guess how it may work. But his team is on the look-out for any separated fraction that can unboil an egg.

The Further Inventions of Daedalus is published by Oxford University Press.