California researchers create invisible human cells

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Harry Potter, with his invisibility cloak, can go and get dressed. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, have succeeded in cultivating human cells modified with a female squid protein allowing the latter to camouflage itself and become transparent at will.

“I genetically modified my skin with a jellyfish gene ,  Josiah Zayner told us in March 2019 during a meeting at the Hello Tomorrow Summit . The American biohacker had successfully injected jellyfish protein into beer, which in this way became fluorescent, like jellyfish in water. Zayner then tried to reproduce this feat on his skin, without succeeding completely (if his skin does have jellyfish genes, it does not glow in the dark). 

A little more than one after the fact, researchers at the University of California at Irvine (UCI) conducted a comparable experiment with a specimen of a female cephalopod of the species Doryteuthis opalescens . A squid or squid that can be seen frequently in California. She and her fellows frequent the eastern Pacific Ocean, from the Californian coasts to those bordering Alaska. Doryteuthis opalescens has a power comparable to that of many fictional characters - from Harry Potter to Jack Griffin, alias the invisible man: the power to make certain parts of his body invisible on demand to protect himself from predators.

A very practical camouflage gift, which inspired the American researchers at the UCI. The latter have succeeded in cultivating human cells capable of becoming invisible, they explain in a study published in the journal Nature Communications on June 2.

Thanks to a protein, reflectin, the squid Dorytheuthis opalescens  is able to change color or make certain parts of its body invisible. In fact, reflectin affects the shape of skin cells and the way light reflects. In other words, reflectin reflects a different wavelength . Squids do not disappear, they are “just” masters of the optical illusion and blend in with the environment.

Graph of the UCI to represent his inspirations and results

“  For thousands of years, the human species has been fascinated by the gift of invisibility. Don, who has inspired many works of science fiction, philosophy and university research , comments in the press release issued by the UCI, the principal author of the study and researcher in chemical and biomolecular engineering, Atrouli Chatterjee. Our project, firmly rooted in the realm of science, focused on the design of human cells and tissues capable of controlling the scattering, reflection and absorption of light. ". Like the squid, in short. The researchers therefore cultivated human cells by genetically modifying them with reflectin. And it worked, says Alon Gorodetsky, director of the laboratory that conducted the study.

This is not his first feat of arms with squid. Already inspired by the camouflage capacities of the latter, Alon Goretsky's team had imagined for the research department of the American army (Darpa) a biofilm invisible to infrared light , based on squid protein. Under the eye of infrared cameras, the soldier became invisible. A small step for the squid, a big step towards the invisible man?


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