This Algae Species is Like a Living Opal

Image: Martin Lopez-Garcia, et al./Science Advances

All that glitters is not gold ... sometimes, they're opal.

Researchers at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom have discovered an iridescent algae species called Cystoseira tamariscifolia that got its dazzling colors from its light-controlling crystals inside its cells.

"We have living jewels in the environment," study author Heather Whitney said to Gizmodo, "It’s a FabergĂ© seaweed":

Looking at it under a microscope reveals a shimmering iridescence. An even closer analysis reveals two to three fat-filled vesicles in each of its cells, according to the paper published last week in Science Advances.

Inside these sacs, lots of spherical fat globules arrange themselves into a three-dimensional lattice, similar to the lattice structure that silicon dioxide takes in opals, to give the alga its special iridescent property. Not only that, but it appears that the algae can choose to order and disorder the spheres to control how light is scattered (or not) inside cells.

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