Science turns to 'chameleon of the sea' for camouflage inspiration

Jan. 29, 2014 at 5:43 PM

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Jan. 29 (UPI) -- An animal known as the "chameleon of the sea" may offer a model for bioinspired human camouflage and color-changing products, U.S. researchers say.

The natural nanoscale photonic device that enables the cuttlefish, a small marine animal that can dynamically change its colors, could be duplicated to create improved protective camouflage for soldiers on the battlefield, scientists at Harvard University and the Maine Biological Laboratory reported Wednesday.

Cuttlefish can rapidly alter both the color and pattern of their skin, using sophisticated biomolecular nanophotonic system to blend in with their surroundings and avoid predators, they said.

"Nature solved the riddle of adaptive camouflage a long time ago," Harvard bioengineering Professor Kevin Kit Parker said. "Now the challenge is to reverse-engineer this system in a cost-efficient, synthetic system that is amenable to mass manufacturing."

Neurally controlled pigmented organs called chromatophores allow a cuttlefish to change its appearance in response to visual clues, the researchers said, and they hope to duplicate the biological, chemical and optical functions that make this adaptive coloration possible.

"Throughout history, people have dreamed of having an 'invisible suit,'" that would blend into a background, Parker said. "Nature solved that problem, and now it's up to us to replicate this genius so, like the cuttlefish, we can avoid our predators."

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