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Biol Lett. 2011 Aug 23;7(4):543-6. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.1163. Epub 2011 Feb 9.

Colour-producing β-keratin nanofibres in blue penguin (Eudyptula minor) feathers.

Author information

1
Department of Biology and Integrated Bioscience Program, University of Akron, Akron, OH 44325-3908, USA.

Abstract

The colours of living organisms are produced by the differential absorption of light by pigments (e.g. carotenoids, melanins) and/or by the physical interactions of light with biological nanostructures, referred to as structural colours. Only two fundamental morphologies of non-iridescent nanostructures are known in feathers, and recent work has proposed that they self-assemble by intracellular phase separation processes. Here, we report a new biophotonic nanostructure in the non-iridescent blue feather barbs of blue penguins (Eudyptula minor) composed of parallel β-keratin nanofibres organized into densely packed bundles. Synchrotron small angle X-ray scattering and two-dimensional Fourier analysis of electron micrographs of the barb nanostructure revealed short-range order in the organization of fibres at the appropriate size scale needed to produce the observed colour by coherent scattering. These two-dimensional quasi-ordered penguin nanostructures are convergent with similar arrays of parallel collagen fibres in avian and mammalian skin, but constitute a novel morphology for feathers. The identification of a new class of β-keratin nanostructures adds significantly to the known mechanisms of colour production in birds and suggests additional complexity in their self-assembly.

PMID:
21307042
PMCID:
PMC3130216
DOI:
10.1098/rsbl.2010.1163
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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