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Scallop eyes can help develop smaller underwater cameras

In an article in today’s issue of Science researchers from Lund and Israel present a detailed study of a scallop’s visual system. Their findings can help to develop devices for imaging applications.
Three scallop eyes.
Three scallop eyes shown as blue balls. The brightness in the centre of each eye is light reflected from the mirror at the back of each eye. Photo: Dan-Eric Nilsson, Lund University

Most animals use lenses to focus light onto the retina. Some marine organisms like scallops instead have developed a mirror to focus the light onto the retina in order to see.

A scallop has more than 100 eyes and a vision adapted to the environment where it lives. According to the researchers the scallops’ visual system works in a very similar way to reflecting telescopes, but on a much smaller scale.

In their study they show how the mirror behind the retina consists of square plates of nanometre sized guanine crystals that function as a multilayer reflector.

Using various microscopic approaches the researchers show how the layers in the retina recieve different images. One layer is better in the periphery, the other one is best in the central visual field. Together they make it possible for the scallop to see shapes and contours.

”The entire mirror construction is well adapted to the environment where scallops live. Their eye vision is considerably better than the vision found in other bivalves with other types of eyes,” says Gavin Taylor, postdoc at the Department of Biology at Lund University and one of the authors of the article in Science.

He has worked on the study together with researchers in Israel. Gavin Taylor thinks that the results will be of practical use in a near future.

”Our results can help to develop miniature cameras to be used in water. There is also a growing interest in cameras like that for use in robotics and biomedical applications. It probably won’t be long until applications like these are inspired by the scallops’ eyes,” he says.

The results are published in an article in Science December 1.

Jan Olsson

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