Many of you have probably already seen this in one form or another this week, as it makes the rounds on the internet. Yes, it’s the hip-hop squid. Sensible researchers from Woods Hole and the University of Texas used electrical stimuli to excite the chromatophores (or is it iridophore?) in squid to understand the mechanisms behind rapid colouration….and the less sensible repeated the experiment and set it to the Cypress Hill classic ‘Insane in the Brain’ (touche people, membrane…squid skin, who says scientists don’t have a sense of humour?). Where is the scientific interest in such an endeavour? Oh it’s there alright, and it’s just as cool as this clip…
*cell or plastid that contains pigment
** subclass of chromatophores responsible for reflecting light
Squid have fast dynamic control over their skin colouration; control that is unique in the animal kingdom. To paraphrase from the scientific article ‘Neural control of tuneable skin iridescence in squid‘ published by the Royal Society this week, this colouration, unlike say fixed iridescence in butterflies, is dynamically tuned changing both color and brightness output. The authors discovered that there are two distinct mechanisms responsible for colour shift and iridescence. Electrical stimulation of neurons in the skin aided the discovery of the protein responsible for the rapid shift in reflectance.
According to the Huffington post, a group of “neuroscience-obsessed educators and innovators” that go by the name of Backyard Brains were inspired by the research and set about stimulating the pigment cells in a Longfin Inshore squid using an iPhone and a suction electrode (I read somewhere the squid was euthanized just before participation). The audio was then pulsed to the squid’s tissue as electrical signals (as happens inside a microphone), with the chromatophores responding to the changes in voltage.
The mechanism for the rapid colour shift is yet to be discovered, but I’ll assume that Ice T’s ‘Colours’ is a forerunner for the Backyard Brain’s next demonstration video?
To see a cockroach leg kick it to the Beastie Boys…and a very infromative discussion on microstimulation, see Backyard Brains here.