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'Chameleon of the sea' reveals its secrets
Date:1/28/2014

n films; and the chromatophore. This layering enables the skin of the animal to selectively absorb or reflect light of different colors, said coauthor Leila F. Deravi, a research associate in bioengineering at Harvard SEAS.

"Chromatophores were previously considered to be pigmentary organs that acted simply as selective color filters," Deravi said. "But our results suggest that they play a more complex role; they contain luminescent protein nanostructures that enable the cuttlefish to make quick and elaborate changes in its skin pigmentation."

When the cuttlefish actuates its coloration system, each chromatophore expands; the surface area can change as much as 500 percent. The Harvard-MBL team showed that within the chromatophore, tethered pigment granules regulate light through absorbance, reflection, and fluorescence, in effect functioning as nanoscale photonic elements, even as the chromatophore changes in size.

"The cuttlefish uses an ingenious approach to materials composition and structure, one that we have never employed in our engineered displays," said coauthor Evelyn Hu, Tarr-Coyne Professor of Applied Physics and of Electrical Engineering at SEAS. "It is extremely challenging for us to replicate the mechanisms that the cuttlefish uses. For example, we cannot yet engineer materials that have the elasticity to expand 500 times in surface area. And were we able to do so, the richness of color of the expanded and unexpanded material would be dramatically differentthink of stretching and shrinking a balloon. The cuttlefish may have found a way to compensate for this change in richness of color by being an 'active' light emitter (fluorescent), not simply modulating light through passive reflection."

The team also included Roger Hanlon and his colleagues at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. Hanlon's lab has examined adaptive coloration in the cuttlefish and other invertebrates for many years.

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Contact: Caroline Perry
cperry@seas.harvard.edu
617-496-1351
Harvard University
Source:Eurekalert  

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