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How Cephalopods Became Nature’s Master of Cosmetics

Contact Author Audrey Latimer
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Moderator Thomas G. Polefka, Ph.D., of Life Science Solutions, LLC, set the stage for the biomimicry session of the IFSCC by defining biomimcry as “an approach to innovation. It seeks to identify sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested designs and processes.”

Roger Hanlon, Ph.D., of Brown University, then spoke about the changeable pigmentary structural coloration patterns in cephalopods. He urged the audience to pay attention to their changeable complexions.

Hanlon explained how the chromatophores in the skin of animals like octopuses, squids and cuttlefish enable them change color in the blink of an eye. Their skin is a three-dimensional layered optical system that includes pigments, reflectors and diffusers. The pigments and reflectors use light to display different combinations of pigmented patterns. The chromatophores and iridophores experience spectral shifts when pigments expand over underlying reflectors.

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The cephalopods also possess reflectin proteins, which is unique in the animal kingdom. These reflectin proteins have structural coloration, produce a true white, produce all colors in the visible range and were recently found co-located with pigments. Hanlon encouraged cosmetic chemists to look into using similar reflectin proteins in cosmetics such as a makeup base or sunscreen.

The audience was also encouraged by Hanlon to “look to the oceans for inspiration.” He stated that the oceans and their inhabitants possess beautiful gradations of color and contrast with pigments and reflectors, an untapped goldmine of biodiversity and bio-inspiration, the ability to manipulate available light: NOT creating new light; and there, we can find the only shape-shifting skin known to science.

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