New Human Frontier Science programme grant

8 July 2021

We are excited to be part of a new Human Frontier Science Programme project starting in October 2021 to investigate the genetics and biomechanics of butterfly wing scale structure formation.

During the final stage of metamorphosis, butterfly wings sprout with hundreds of thousands of scales, each formed by a single cell and carrying precise chitin-based nanostructural motifs. Delicate control of scale structure on the single-scale level determines multiple functions of the wing, including brilliant colors, water repellency, thermoregulation, and lift generation. Despite these functions being of great interest to biologists and engineers alike, we only have limited knowledge of the mechanisms underlying scale formation. This project takes inspiration from nature, to understand how functional nano-structures are assembled in butterfly wing scales from a biological, physical and engineering perspective.

We will be working with two partner labs, those of Mathias Kolle and Bodo Wilts.

Microscopic image of butterfly wing scale

Butterfly’s wings are covered in scales, each of which are formed by a single cell, but have an intricately patterned surface.