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J Struct Biol. 2011 May;174(2):290-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jsb.2011.01.004. Epub 2011 Jan 25.

The chiral structure of porous chitin within the wing-scales of Callophrys rubi.

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Dept. Applied Mathematics, Research School of Physics and Engineering, The Australian National University, Canberra 0200, Australia.


The structure of the porous three-dimensional reticulated pattern in the wing scales of the butterfly Callophrys rubi (the Green Hairstreak) is explored in detail, via scanning and transmission electron microscopy. A full 3D tomographic reconstruction of a section of this material reveals that the predominantly chitin material is assembled in the wing scale to form a structure whose geometry bears a remarkable correspondence to the srs net, well-known in solid state chemistry and soft materials science. The porous solid is bounded to an excellent approximation by a parallel surface to the Gyroid, a three-periodic minimal surface with cubic crystallographic symmetry I4₁32, as foreshadowed by Stavenga and Michielson. The scale of the structure is commensurate with the wavelength of visible light, with an edge of the conventional cubic unit cell of the parallel-Gyroid of approximately 310 nm. The genesis of this structure is discussed, and we suggest it affords a remarkable example of templating of a chiral material via soft matter, analogous to the formation of mesoporous silica via surfactant assemblies in solution. In the butterfly, the templating is achieved by the lipid-protein membranes within the smooth endoplasmic reticulum (while it remains in the chrysalis), that likely form cubic membranes, folded according to the form of the Gyroid. The subsequent formation of the chiral hard chitin framework is suggested to be driven by the gradual polymerisation of the chitin precursors, whose inherent chiral assembly in solution (during growth) promotes the formation of a single enantiomer.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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