Scientists at Harvard University in Boston and the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, hope new understanding of the natural nanoscale photonic device that enables a small marine animal to dynamically change its colors will inspire improved protective camouflage for soldiers on the battlefield. The cuttlefish, known as the "chameleon of the sea," can rapidly alter both the color and pattern of its skin, helping it blend in with its surroundings and avoid predators. In a paper published online on January 29, 2014 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the Harvard-MBL team reports new details on the sophisticated biomolecular nanophotonic system underlying the cuttlefish’s color-changing ways. "Nature solved the riddle of adaptive camouflage a long time ago," said Dr. Kevin Kit Parker, Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and core faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. “Now the challenge is to reverse-engineer this system in a cost-efficient, synthetic system that is amenable to mass manufacturing." In addition to textiles for military camouflage, the findings could also have applications in materials for paints, cosmetics, and consumer electronics. The cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) is a cephalopod, like squid and octopuses. Neurally controlled, pigmented organs called chromatophores allow it to change its appearance in response to visual clues, but scientists have had an incomplete understanding of the biological, chemical, and optical functions that make this adaptive coloration possible.
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