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Defense & Security

Neural interfaces inspired by cephalopods

The Gorodetsky Lab explores the properties of structural proteins known as reflectins, which play crucial roles in the functionality of cephalopod skin.

20 September 2017, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.2201709.04
from OP planary _Alon Gorodetsky,  UC, Irvine

As part of the Bio-Inspired Materials and Systems session at SPIE Optics + Photonics 2017, Rylan Kautz, a graduate research assistant at University of California, Irvine, (UCI) presented a paper on dynamic materials inspired by cephalopods. This presentation highlighted the work of the Gorodetsky Group for Biomolecular Electronics at UCI.

Led by Alon Gorodetsky, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science, the group is developing infrared camouflage and conductive materials inspired by cephalopods.

Over the last century, cephalopods have been essential in neurobiological and neuroscientific studies. In 1952, the Nobel-prize winning work of Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley uncovered the ionic mechanism of action potentials of the squid giant axon. This work provided an overall understanding of neural signaling, neuronal processes, and how they function. As a comparative model organism, Kautz noted, "cephalopods have the most advanced central nervous system of all invertebrates."

Gorodetsky's lab group is exploring the properties of structural proteins known as reflectins, which play crucial roles in the functionality of cephalopod skin. This protein allows cephalopods to camouflage themselves quickly.

Cephalopods skin is highly innervated with iridophores and chromatophores - nerves that interact with the skin itself. When stimulated by light, these cells react naturally without the cephalopod actually observing the light with its eyes, allowing the camouflage action to occur much faster.

The lab is mainly working with one isoform of reflectin, known as reflectin A1, but Kautz pointed out that "every year more isoforms of this unusual protein are being unraveled and more understood."


Bioelectronics were noted as a "cure-all strategy for disease treatment" in this presentation. Clinicians and molecular biologists identify "targets" of disease or health, neuroscientists identify the neural pathway to manipulate the target, then engineers and computer scientists design a device to modulate the appropriate pathway. Neural interface interactions include control of external devices such as wheelchairs, the cursor on a computer screen, or prosthetic devices. While neural interfaces can be inorganic -- such as tungsten, platinum, or gold -- "biocompatibility is a major draw." Organic materials include carbon nanotubes, graphene/poly(N,N-dimethylacrylamide), and polypyrrole/chotosan.

Organic/biological materials have several advantages -- they require simple, convenient, and inexpensive processing and fabrication, are amenable to chemical modification, possess mechanical properties inherently compatible to biological systems, and are well suited for the transduction of biochemical events into electronic signals.

The ultimate goal of this work is to develop a reflectin-based protonic device that may be able to communicate with cells in living tissue through proton channels and pumps that could interface in a brain-machine type interface. These findings hold implications for the development of adaptive camouflage systems, sensitive bioelectronic platforms, and renewable energy technologies.

SPIE Optics + Photonics 2017, 6-10 August in San Diego, CA (USA), featured 3300 technical presentations on light-based technologies in 69 conferences. It was also the venue for a three-day industry exhibition with 180 companies; a two-day Career Center job fair; 34 courses and workshops; and several networking opportunities for professionals and students.

SPIE Optics + Photonics 2018 will run 19-23 August in San Diego.