The saying “having eyes in the back of your head” was brought to a new level by a mollusk, as recently discovered by a worldwide team of researchers.
The mollusks are phylum (the rank between class and kingdom in the taxonomy ranking system) of invertebrates found underwater with over 85.000 species known to date. This particular mollusk, called Acanthopleura granulate, has circumvented a characteristic evolutionary trait that all mollusks have, mainly their loss of eyesight in favor of better defense provided by the shell armor that covers most of their body.
The shell of the mollusk discussed at this moment is mainly opaque except various spots which act similarly to a lens, diverting light into the retina of said mollusk through its armor. These lenses are made from aragonite, a type of calcium which is found in most mollusks. The existence of these eyes has been previously documented but until now it was believed that they acted as simple photoreceptors, only detecting the presence and absence of light.
By removing some of the eyes and placing them under a powerful microscope, scientists have found that these eyes are not just simple photoreceptors. They actually created a rather clear and focused image. Even though the main armor and the eyes are both made from the same aragonite material, the difference in crystalline structure that the lenses possess allows them to function like an eye.
But the eye of the mollusk is very different from our human eye. By making certain tweaks in its armor, the mollusks can focus on different objects around it. The system is comprised of various different layers of aragonite, each with their own structural complexity, functioning like the lens system found inside of a telescope.
This discovery could be applied to the techniques in which we create various materials in the future. If we use specialized 3D printers in order to print ceramic armor with the same crystalline structure as the one found on the mollusk’s armor, we could create a type of smart material.
By connecting this material to an information processor, like a computer, we could create armor that can basically see around it, without leaving any various blind spots for the user. But in our present time we do not possess the technology to create such materials, unfortunately.
Besides its appliance in modern technology, scientists and researchers can also further elucidate the plethora of mysteries that still surround the process of evolution.
Even though “having eyes in the back of your head” was brought to a new level by a mollusk, making it the only species of mollusk who has living tissue inside its own armor, its applicability to military technology, or other branches as well.