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BioPaints: the biochemistry and characterization of color in nature

Dr. Holly Carpenter Desai and SGA president Patrick Pickens journeyed to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego for eight weeks to continue Desai’s ground-breaking research in the study of reflectins—a protein material found naturally in the skin of squid that has many “very interesting spectral and optical properties.” It is these reflectins that allow some squid to rapidly change color to communicate or camouflage themselves.

“We are mainly interested in a fundamental understanding of these materials,” Desai said.

During the research, Desai and Pickens constructed a material made from elastin and reflectins.  Although this material does not currently have any application in today’s market, Desai is confident that the day it will is rapidly approaching.

“The elastin-reflectin hybrid material we made may lead to an application in health as a material component of skin implants or drug-delivery matrices,” she said.

The properties of reflectins could also have a profound impact on technology, considering how fast color display technology changes and grows.

“These spectral properties make them ideal inspiration for designing new liquid crystal display (LCD) devices for example,” Desai said.  “Another research group used reflectins as inspiration for the generation of a tunable full-color pixel device.”

During their research trip, Desai and Pickens connected with other members of the FUSE program from San Diego via Skype, in order to participate in meetings and keep informed of developments from other groups while providing updates of their own.

“The students gain valuable research skills as well as gain a better understanding of the subject material through applying their knowledge in the lab,” Desai said. “I am more enthusiastic about teaching when I have a connection to scholarship in my field and students benefit though enhanced learning opportunities.”

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