Butterfly gyroid nanostructures as a time-frozen glimpse of intracellular membrane development

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Science Advances  26 Apr 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 4, e1603119
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1603119

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The formation of the biophotonic gyroid material in butterfly wing scales is an exceptional feat of evolutionary engineering of functional nanostructures. It is hypothesized that this nanostructure forms by chitin polymerization inside a convoluted membrane of corresponding shape in the endoplasmic reticulum. However, this dynamic formation process, including whether membrane folding and chitin expression are simultaneous or sequential processes, cannot yet be elucidated by in vivo imaging. We report an unusual hierarchical ultrastructure in the butterfly Thecla opisena that, as a solid material, allows high-resolution three-dimensional microscopy. Rather than the conventional polycrystalline space-filling arrangement, a gyroid occurs in isolated facetted crystallites with a pronounced size gradient. When interpreted as a sequence of time-frozen snapshots of the morphogenesis, this arrangement provides insight into the formation mechanisms of the nanoporous gyroid material as well as of the intracellular organelle membrane that acts as the template.

  • Lepidoptera
  • development of nanostructures
  • chitin
  • gyroid
  • x-ray nanotomography
  • optical structures
  • biophotonics

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