Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Shiny black feathers: structurally different

The shiny feathers on Common Ravens, for instance, display a unique structure that might prove useful to humans, according to research by scientists at The University of Akron.

Integrated bioscience Ph.D. student Rafael Maia, postdoctoral researcher Liliana D’Alba and assistant professor Matthew Shawkey found that shiny black feathers have a single thin keratin layer but loosely organized melanosomes. This differs from iridescent feathers' single, thin layer of keratin atop a linearly organized layer of melanosomes (the cell subunits containing the light-absorbing pigment melanin) as well as matte-black feathers' thick keratin layer and disorganized melanosomes.

The research, supported by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, might represent an evolutionarily intermediate step between matte and iridescent colors and also provides possibilities for new ways to produce glossy surfaces, according to the university. The scientists' findings, "What makes a feather shine? A nanostructural basis for glossy black colours in feathers," appeared on Proceedings of The Royal Society B today.

glossy black feather courtesy of The University of Akron

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