Structural Diversity of Arthropod Biophotonic Nanostructures Spans Amphiphilic Phase-Space

Nano Lett. 2015 Jun 10;15(6):3735-42. doi: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b00201. Epub 2015 May 14.


Many organisms, especially arthropods, produce vivid interference colors using diverse mesoscopic (100-350 nm) integumentary biophotonic nanostructures that are increasingly being investigated for technological applications. Despite a century of interest, precise structural knowledge of many biophotonic nanostructures and the mechanisms controlling their development remain tentative, when such knowledge can open novel biomimetic routes to facilely self-assemble tunable, multifunctional materials. Here, we use synchrotron small-angle X-ray scattering and electron microscopy to characterize the photonic nanostructure of 140 integumentary scales and setae from ∼127 species of terrestrial arthropods in 85 genera from 5 orders. We report a rich nanostructural diversity, including triply periodic bicontinuous networks, close-packed spheres, inverse columnar, perforated lamellar, and disordered spongelike morphologies, commonly observed as stable phases of amphiphilic surfactants, block copolymer, and lyotropic lipid-water systems. Diverse arthropod lineages appear to have independently evolved to utilize the self-assembly of infolding lipid-bilayer membranes to develop biophotonic nanostructures that span the phase-space of amphiphilic morphologies, but at optical length scales.

Keywords: Biophotonic nanostructures; biomimetics; iridescence; membrane-folding; self-assembly; structural colors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthropods / chemistry*
  • Arthropods / ultrastructure*
  • Nanostructures / chemistry*
  • Nanostructures / ultrastructure*
  • Pigmentation*