Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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In a Wingbeat

As heart muscle cells grown on iridescent butterfly wings contract it causes synchronous shifts in colours – a way of monitoring the cell mechanics

01 February 2019

In a Wingbeat

Both beautiful and practical, the dazzling wings of Morpho butterflies have already inspired many innovations, from self-cleaning surfaces to solar technologies, and could now find a new biomedical application. The secret of their stunning iridescence lies in structural coloration, produced by the interaction of light with complex nanoscale ridges on their wing scales. Scientists recently harnessed these remarkable surfaces to develop a biosensor monitoring the behaviour of heart muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes. Essentially, they found that cardiomyocytes could be cultured on modified wings of Morpho menelaus (pictured), and recover their intrinsic beating rhythm, expanding and contracting. These contractions cause the wings to bend, changing the angle at which light hits the nanostructures on their scales, so altering the colour of the wings. As these colour changes will reveal any variation in the cells’ behaviour, this system could provide a simple tool to test the responses of cardiomyocytes to different drugs.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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