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Scientists dive into study of squid skin sensors

Jul 2011
Compiled by BioPhotonics staff

Researchers at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) are preparing to uncover the way in which cephalopods such as squid, octopi and cuttlefish use light-sensing proteins in their skin to blend into their environment. What they find may lead to artificial materials that respond to their surroundings.

Camouflage expert Roger Hanlon, who has spent more than three decades studying the camouflage artistry of cephalopods, will collaborate with materials scientists and nanotechnologists at Rice University to develop materials that can mimic cephalopod camouflage.

The image shows chromatophores (large brown, red and yellow structures) and iridophores (pink iridescent splotches) in the skin of the long-finned squid Loligo pealeii. Images courtesy of Lydia Mäthger, Marine Biological Laboratory.

“Our internal name for this project is ‘squid skin,’ but it is really about fundamental research,” said Naomi Halas, an expert in nano-optics at Rice and principal investigator on the four-year, $6 million grant Hanlon received from the Office of Naval Research. “Our deliverable is knowledge, the basic discoveries that will allow us to make materials that are observant, adaptive and responsive to their environment.”

Hanlon and his MBL colleagues discovered in 2008 that cephalopod skin contained opsins, the same type of light-sensing proteins that function in the eyes. The grant will enable the research group to explore a new avenue in vision research – distributed light sensing throughout the skin, Hanlon said. He hopes that understanding where and how the visual information is used by the nervous system will uncover novel neural circuitry.

Iridophores in squid are highly angle dependent. This image depicts the same iridophore splotches viewed at normal (red) and oblique (blue) angles.

Experiments will be conducted with cephalopods to determine how opsin molecules receive light and aid the animals’ visual system in adjusting skin patterns for communication and camouflage. The team of scientists, which includes researchers from MBL and a marine biologist from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, will use a variety of techniques to accomplish its aims.

“This is inherently a multidisciplinary problem,” Halas said. “What can we, as engineers, learn from the way these animals perceive light and color?” The team’s engineers will focus on emulating cephalopod skin using new metamaterials.

AmericasBiophotonicsBioScancephalopod camouflagecephalopod skincephalopodscuttlefishlight-sensing proteinsMarine Biological LaboratoryMassachusettsMBLmetamaterialsNaomi Halasneural circuitryNewsoctopusOffice of Naval ResearchRice UniversityRoger Hanlonskin patternsSQUIDUniversity of MarylandVision Research

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