World Bulletin / News Desk
Scientists have found nature's way of creating colour that never fades, a technique they say could replace pigments used in industry with natural plant extracts in products from food colouring to security features in banknotes.
Layers of cellulose that reflect specific wavelengths of light - 'structural colour' found in peacock feathers, scarab beetles and butterflies - make a particularly intense blue in the Pollia condensata plant, scientists say.
Samples of the fruit in plant collections dating back to the 19th century had not lost any shine or intensity, they found.
"By taking inspiration from nature, it is possible to obtain smart multifunctional materials using sustainable routes with abundant and cheap materials like cellulose," said University of Cambridge physicist Silvia Vignolini.
"It is 10 times more intense and bright than any colour achieved with a pigment," said Vignolini, who led the study with plant scientist Beverley Glover.
Although the fruit has no nutritional value, birds were attracted by its bright colour, possibly as a decoration for their nests or to impress mates, helping in seed dispersal.
"This obscure little plant has hit on a fantastic way of making an irresistible, shiny, sparkly, multi-coloured, iridescent signal to every bird in the vicinity, without wasting any of its precious photosynthetic reserves on bird food," said Glover.
And, unlike pigments, structural colour does not fade over time as it is not broken down by absorbing light.
"Edible, cellulose-based nanostructures with structural colour can be used as substitutes for toxic dyes and colorants in food," said Vignolini. The paper industry is already set up to extract and use cellulose and its processes could also be adapted for security labelling or cosmetics, she said.
"Cellulose-based structures have a really strong optical response and are completely inert in the human body," she said.
Another advantage of the technique is that the desired colour can be achieved by adding layers in the structure to reflect different wavelengths, rather than buying new pigment.
Similar research by Peter Vukusic at Exeter University into the structure that creates colour in butterfly wings has spawned a pigment-free photonic make-up from French cosmetics company L'Oreal.
"I saw how brilliant optically some of these structural colours are," Vukusic told Reuters. "Some species collected as far back as the eighteenth century are as bright today as freshly hatched butterflies."
Vukusic said although some car companies, including BMW , have also exploited the phenomenon to produce iridescent paint that changes colour when viewed from different angles, "this is nothing compared to what you see in nature".
He said that if production challenges can be overcome, the abundance of cellulose - the basis of most green plant material - makes it a material with great potential.
The research is published today in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The system is said to be able to suck in air from a 300-metre radius and from up to seven kilometres (over four miles) upwards.
Would create new distribution, content creation giant, if approved by regulators
Waves of cyberattacks disrupt services for many East Coast US Internet users
Critics slam company after claims it allowed NSA to scan all users’ emails
Shenzhou-11 to take 2 astronauts into space, dock with orbiting space lab Tiangong-2 within 2 days
A German politician has said Facebook should pay for failing to remove online hate comment
For the first time in over 120 years, a design patent case will be heard by the US supreme court.
Toyota is usually associated with cars, but it has been investing millions in robotics and Kirobo is its first commercial foray into the sector.
A joint Mongolian-Japanese expedition found the giant print, which measures 106 centimetres (42 inches) long and 77 centimetres wide.
Current conditions may ‘commit Earth to an eventual total warming of 5 degrees Celsius’ in few thousand years, author says
Cyber-attack in 2014 likely the largest data breach in history
Photographs, videos, polls, quoted tweets no longer count toward 140-character limit
2.5 million phones recalled days before Apple introduces iPhone 7
Mark Zuckerberg has vowed to continue effort to provide satellite for Africa
3.7-billion-year-old rock suggests life began soon after Earth’s formation
Facebook will target advertising to Whatsapp users but will steer clear of third party advertising content