Scientists are replicating the anti-reflective self-cleaning nanocoating of insect eyes

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Nanostructures covering the corneas of tiny fruit flies’ eyes have been studied by scientists from Russia and Switzerland.

In their analysis, the team discovered how to manufacture safe, biodegradable nanocoating in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way with antimicrobial, anti-reflective and self-cleaning properties.

The protective coating could have applications, including medicine, nanoelectronics, automotive and textiles, in a number of industries.

In Nature, the article explaining these findings appears.

Scientists from the Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU, Russia) have teamed up with colleagues from the University of Geneva, the University of Lausanne and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich to conduct an interdisciplinary research project in which they have been able to artificially replicate Drosophila flies, a nanocornea that is naturally intended to protect the cornea of fruit flies.

In different fields of economics, the craft of nanocoating meets demands.

It can coat any two-dimensional or three-dimensional structures and give them anti-reflective, antibacterial, hydrophobic and even self-cleaning properties depending on the assignment.

For instance, the latter is a very significant property for costly reusable Ortho-K lenses that correct vision overnight. Similar anti-reflective coatings, while developed by more complicated and expensive processes, are already known.

They are used on computer screens, eyeglasses, and can be coated with paintings in museums to remove the reflection and refraction of light.

“Nano-coating can be manufactured in any desired amount, since it is cheaper than current methods of manufacturing similar structures.

Vladimir Katanaev, head of research and head of the Laboratory of Pharmacology of Natural Compounds at FEFU’s School of Biomedicine, explains that working with natural components does not require special equipment, substantial energy consumption and the constraints of chemical etching, lithography and laser printing.

“There are broad applications to the growth.

For example, it may be textile structural coloring that would change color depending on the angle of view.

A metamaterial-based camouflage coat, an antibacterial layer for medical implants and a self-cleaning coating for contact lenses and windshields can be made.

We also assume that if we reinforce nanocoating, it could be used for advanced electronics as a basis for prototype flexible miniature transistors.

Using direct and reverse bioengineering techniques, the researchers succeeded in restoring the corneal coating of the tiny fruit fly.

They first disassembled the protective layer into its components, which turned out to be retinin (protein) and corneal wax (lipids), and then reassembled it on glass and plastic surfaces under room temperature conditions.

All other types of materials can also be nanocoated, according to Vladimir Katanaev.

Combinations with different wax types and retinin protein genetic manipulations allow very different and complex functional nanocoatings to be designed.

The researcher explains that the mechanism underlying the production of the protective nanostructures on the corneas of Drosophila flies is a self-organizing process defined as a reaction-diffusion mechanism by Alan Turing as early as 1952.

This is in line with the mathematical modeling conducted during the analysis.

The patterns that form on the fur of a zebra or a leopard, for example, are also responsible for this process.

The first proven example of Turing models at the nanoscale is the nanostructures that shield the corneas of Drosophila eyes.

As part of the research project, the properties of retinin were characterized in depth by scientists, as this protein has been little studied.

It turned out that when interacting with corneal waxes, this initially unstructured protein forms a spherical structure.

Thus, according to the Turing model, the researchers looked deeply into the biophysical essence of self-assembly and highlighted an important molecular mechanism that is possibly at the heart of self-assembly – the initiation of protein structuring.

The research team aims to evolve as a next move,

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