Researchers in the lab of UC Santa Barbara professor Daniel Morse have long been interested in the optical properties of color-changing animals, and they are particularly intrigued by the opalescent inshore squid. Also known as the California market squid, these animals have evolved the ability to finely and continuously tune their color and sheen to a degree unrivaled in other creatures. This enables them to communicate, as well as hide in plain sight in the bright and often featureless upper ocean.
In previous work, the researchers uncovered that specialized proteins, called reflectins, control reflective pigment cells -- iridocytes -- which in turn contribute to changing the overall visibility and appearance of the creature. But still a mystery was how the reflectins actually worked.
Machine - Works - Morse - Distinguished - Emeritus
"We wanted now to understand how this remarkable molecular machine works," said Morse, a Distinguished Emeritus Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, and principal author of a paper that appears in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Understanding this mechanism, he said, would provide insight into the tunable control of emergent properties, which could open the door to the next generation of bio-inspired synthetic materials.
Like most cephalopods, opalescent inshore squid, practice their sorcery by way of what may be the most sophisticated skin found anywhere in nature. Tiny muscles manipulate the skin texture while pigments and iridescent cells affect its appearance. One group of cells controls their color by expanding and contracting cells in their skin that contain sacks of pigment.
Pigment - Cells - Layer - Cells - Iridocytes
Behind these pigment cells are a layer of iridescent cells -- those iridocytes -- that reflect light and contribute to the animals' color across the entire visible spectrum. The squids also have leucophores, which control the reflectance of white light. Together, these layers of pigment-containing and light-reflecting cells give the squids the ability to control the...
Wake Up To Breaking News!