“Disco Clam” could hold the key to better paint and TV’s
Story by 13 On Your Side Newsroom
Known variously as the "electric flame scallop"
and "fire clam", the mysterious Pacific bi-valve, Ctenoides Ales, is
a source of fascination for Berkeley University marine biologist Lindsey
Dougherty. She calls it the 'disco clam' and fondly recalls the first time she
"I was just blown away. I have dived with great whites,
I have dived with humpback whales, I've dived with whale sharks. And with the
disco clam, I was just immediately enamoured," said Dougherty.
It began, like so many love affairs, with the lips. In its
habitat off the coast of the eastern Pacific rim, the disco clam has the
brightest smile in the ocean, with lips that flash like a strobe light.
Dougherty says many people confuse the clam's flashy light show with
bioluminescence which produces light through a chemical reaction. She says the
clam's shiny lips represent one of Nature's best examples of the ability to
"What I found when I looked at their tissue is that
their tissue is basically half filled with these small particles that reflect
light very well and half of the tissue is empty. It is literally a dividing
line down the tissue. And when you look at high speed video of what is
happening, you can see the reflective part of the video unrolling and the light
reflects and then the non-reflective side rolls back up. And you do high-speed
video you can see that this is happening five or six times a second which makes
it look like it is literally flashing," she said.
This reflective ability is so highly adapted, that the clam
can produce its display deep underwater, where very little light penetrates.
And while the disco clam puts on a great show, Dougherty says studying it could
plays an important role in the field of photonics - understanding how light
interacts with matter.
"So by learning about these natural structures and how
they function, we can improve technology and have things better interact with
light. So everything from paints to flat screen TV's to anti-counterfeiting
devices. There is really a plethora of cool ways that these organisms can be
applied to technology."
Dougherty says she is also trying to figure out why the clam
puts on a show. She says it could be to attract prey or frighten off predators.
Or, she says, it could be that the disco clam is simply looking for a mate to
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