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  • Ben Palmer

Gan's paper comes out in JACS!


The eyes of many fish contain a reflecting layer of organic crystals partially surrounding the photoreceptors of the retina, which are commonly believed to be composed of guanine. Here we study an unusual fish eye from Stizostedion lucioperca that contains two layers of organic crystals. The crystals in the outer layer are thin plates, whereas the crystals in the inner tapetum layer are block-shaped. We show that the outer layer indeed contains guanine crystals. Analyses of solutions of crystals from the inner layer indicated that the block-shaped crystals are composed of xanthopterin. A model of the structure of the block-shaped crystals was produced using symmetry arguments based on electron diffraction data followed by dispersion-augmented DFT calculations. The resulting crystal structure of xanthopterin included, however, a problematic repulsive interaction between C═O and N of two adjacent molecules. Knowing that dissolved 7,8-dihydroxanthopterin can oxidize to xanthopterin, we replaced xanthopterin with 7,8-dihydroxanthopterin in the model. An excellent fit was obtained with the powder X-ray diffraction pattern of the biogenic crystals. We then analyzed the biogenic block-shaped crystals in their solid state, using MALDI-TOF and Raman spectroscopy. All three methods unequivocally prove that the block-shaped crystals in the eye of S. lucioperca are crystals of 7,8-dihydroxanthopterin. On the basis of the eye anatomy, we deduce that the guanine crystals form a reflective layer producing the silvery color present on part of the eye surface, whereas the block-shaped crystals backscatter light into the retina in order to increase the light sensitivity of the eye.

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