The flesh of giant clams has iridescent cells that may inspire scientists to build new smartphone and TV screens, and better solar panels, a new study suggests.
Giant clams can be found in the Pacific and Indian oceans. They can live up to one hundred years in the wild and grow to approximately forty-seven inches (about 120 centimetres) in length. The clams feed on the nutrients generated by photosynthetic algae; at the same time, the algae consume nitrogen-rich waste from the giant clams, according to researchers.
In a new study – published Tuesday (Jan. 19) in the journal Optica – the researchers looked at iridescent cells, known as iridocytes, found in the flesh of giant clams. Iridocytes produce various colour patterns, which include: blues, golds, greens, and sometimes even white.
Amitabh Ghoshal, lead author of the study and an optical physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said that researchers are analysing how the iridescent cells of giant clams help algae with photosynthesis. A better understanding of how clams collect light may help design new solar cells that convert light to energy more efficiently.
To learn more about the mechanisms behind the production of each colour in clams, and to figure out how the colour white is generated, the researchers observed giant clams of the species Tridacna derasa and Tridacna maxima. In a similar way to how video displays mix blue, red, and green pixels to create white, the two clam species also mix colours together to produce their white hue.
Researchers also found that Tridacna maxima and Tridacna derasa used different methods to mix the colours and produce white. For instance, Tridacna derasa gets its white colour from multicoloured iridocytes that appear to be white from a distance. In Tridacna maxima, the colour white is generated by compact iridocytes clusters of different colours.
In the giant molluscs, the iridescent cells have multiple layers of protein structures that act like mirrors to reflect various colours of light, the researchers explained. Similar structures to those that produce colour in clams may help develop colour-reflective displays that no longer rely on light sources such as LEDs, but on ambient light sources, like indoor lighting or the sunlight, Ghoshal noted.
To design and test giant clam-inspired solar cells, the researchers are now working with Guillermo Bezan, director of the Center for Polymers and Organic Solids at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Image Source: bluezooaquatics
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