Explore the dissolving boundary between science and science fiction with news from the front lines of discovery and imaginative speculation on how each one could change our world.
The mechanism that allows cuttlefish and squid to change color and blend into their environments may inspire the next generation of camouflage products.
In 2010, researchers at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts showed that the gene responsible for light-sensitive molecules in your eyes also appears in the skin of cuttlefish. The gene produces a protein called opsin and it’s concentrated near chromatophores, small organs containing pigments and connected to muscle fibers. Opsin appears to sense light, while chromatophores change the creature’s skin color; the two may be connected.
Now scientists and bioengineers are working together to develop materials that mimic this natural process. These products could be used to disguise military equipment, change the color of a building to reflect or absorb heat, or transform a wall into a surveillance camera.
Cuttlefish possess the original cloaking device! It’s easy enough to imagine synthetic fabrics or other materials with camouflage abilities (if you’ve read William Gibson’s Neuromancer, you might remember the street gangs wearing photosensitive camouflage suits) but why stop there? Find a way to engineer chromatophores into our own skin and we could become human chameleons.
The military and espionage applications are obvious, and it would only be a matter of time before the technology trickled down to the criminal underworld. Theft, assassination, smuggling, and other illicit activities would revolutionize. Law enforcement would have to find new ways of combating these crimes. What would battle look like when both sides are effectively invisible?
Not all uses have to be so martial. We could also graft photosensitive “skins” onto inanimate objects. This is way beyond your trendy transition eyeglasses; imagine cars that change color to improve visibility in the dark, or buildings that change color with the seasons just like autumn leaves, to help regulate the indoor temperature. How would you apply photosensitive color change technology?