Friday, 3 July 2015

Unraveling iridescence with the ‘Monet’ squid

July 2, 2015

An iridescent skin patch of the squid. (Credit: UCSB)

Eric Hopton for red

Off the US coast in the Eastern Pacific Ocean swims the technicolor squid Doryteuthis opalescens, more commonly known as the California market squid. Like many cephalopods, it uses iridescence and skin color changes for camouflage, to attract mates, and also for communication purposes. But this particular beauty has such amazing light-manipulating capabilities that biologists have likened its displays to the paintings of Monet.

Scientists have been looking for the secrets behind cephalopod light and color control and D. opalescens has helped them unravel the mysteries of iridescence.

The market squid is notable for its skill in activating, shuttering, and directing its own iridescence in multiple ways. Daniel Morse, professor emeritus in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB) at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) has discovered the squid’s ability to “tune” its colors to correlate with the presence of specific sequences of reflectins, proteins unique to the light-sensing tissue of cephalopods.

The cephalopod that likes to Bragg

This research shows for the first time how reflectin protein subtype structure, localization, distribution, and relative abundance correlate with the squid’s optical output. This new work details the mechanisms of the animal’s “tunable” (adaptive) and “nontunable” (static) iridocytes. These are specialized cells found in squid skin, producing color with a process known as Bragg reflection where light is reflected in a very regular and predictable manner.

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