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Research Article

Fossilized Biophotonic Nanostructures Reveal the Original Colors of 47-Million-Year-Old Moths

  • Maria E. McNamara mail,

    maria.mcnamara@yale.edu

    Affiliations: Department of Geology & Geophysics, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America, UCD School of Geological Sciences, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin, Ireland

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  • Derek E. G. Briggs,

    Affiliations: Department of Geology & Geophysics, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America

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  • Patrick J. Orr,

    Affiliation: UCD School of Geological Sciences, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin, Ireland

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  • Sonja Wedmann,

    Affiliation: Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut und Naturmuseum, Forschungsstation Grube Messel, Messel, Germany

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  • Heeso Noh,

    Affiliation: Department of Applied Physics, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America

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  • Hui Cao

    Affiliation: Department of Applied Physics, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America

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  • Published: November 15, 2011
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001200

Reader Comments (2)

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the mismatch of theoretical and empirical reflectance based on 2DFT

Posted by rmaia on 30 Nov 2011 at 20:36 GMT

This is an absolutely fascinating paper investigating these fossilized biophotonic structures. The fossil evidence for these multilayer systems are very compelling (and impressively beautiful preservation!) making it a remarkable finding. I wonder, however, how much can be inferred of the reconstructed color based on the optical modeling used. As far as the literature shows, using the 2D Fourier transform to approximate the color-producing structural components are very limited, giving a rough approximation at best. Even with when using the 2DFT to model color-producing structures of extant species, it is not uncommon to have predicted and measured peak reflectance differ by the same magnitude as that found here (and in the beetle paper published recently by the same group). This is usually attributable to the limitations of the model, which for example can't incorporate absorbance. Therefore, my question is: how much of the difference between the empirically measured and theoretically modeled peak reflectance can indeed be attributable to taphonomy (and therefore how reliable is the reconstruction proposed), and how much can be attributable to model simplification? In other words, could it be that the fossilization actually had little impact on the color, and what we see now strongly resembles what it looked like in the past, and that the model is instead what is a bit off? What would more robust approaches, which are readily available to model multilayer systems, have to say in this regard?

Thank you, and congratulations on the very interesting research!

No competing interests declared.