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Team to Mimic Camouflage Skill of Cephalopods

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WOODS HOLE, Mass., April 26, 2011 — Researchers at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) are preparing to uncover the way in which cephalopods such as squids and octopi 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.

Roger Hanlon, who has spent more than three decades studying the camouflage artistry of cephalopods, is collaborating with materials scientists and nanotechnologists at Rice University toward the goal of developing materials that can mimic cephalopod camouflage. Hanlon was recently named a co-recipient of a $6 million grant from the US Office of Naval Research.

Iridophores in squid are highly angle dependent. This image shows the same iridophore splotches viewed at normal (red) and oblique (blue) viewing angles. (Images: 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 the principal investigator on the four-year grant. “Our deliverable is knowledge, the basic discoveries that will allow us to make materials that are observant, adaptive and responsive to their environment.”

In 2008, Hanlon and MBL colleagues Lydia Mäthger and Steven Roberts discovered that cephalopod skin contains opsins, the same type of light-sensing proteins that function in the eyes.

“This project will enable us to explore an exciting new avenue of vision research — distributed light sensing throughout the skin,” Hanlon said. “How and where that visual information is used by the nervous system is likely to uncover some novel neural circuitry.”

This image shows chromatophores (large brown, red and yellow structures) and iridophores (pink iridescent splotches) in the skin of the long-finned squid, Loligo pealeii.

Hanlon and his team will perform experiments with cephalopods to determine how opsin molecules receive light and aid the animal’s visual system in adjusting skin patterns for communication and camouflage. A wide range of techniques will be used to accomplish these aims. The MBL team, which includes Mäthger and Alan Kuzurian, will be collaborating with marine biologist Thomas Cronin of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, on these investigations.

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

For more information, visit:
Apr 2011
Alan KuzurianAmericasBiophotonicscamouflagecephalopodschromatophoresgrantsimagingiridophoreslight-sensing proteinsLoligo pealeiiLydia MäthgerMarine Biological LaboratoryMassachusettsMaterials & ChemicalsNaomi Halasneural circuitryoctopiOffice of Naval ResearchopsinsResearch & TechnologyRice UniversityRoger HanlonSQUIDsSteven RobertsThomas CroninUniversity of Maryland Baltimore County

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