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Patriotic turkeys teaching researchers how to detect explosives

SONY DSCBenjamin Franklin suggested that the turkey should have been the official symbol of the United States of America instead of the bald eagle. While that didn’t quite work out, it might have been fitting! Turkeys are more patriotic than you might think- while the skin on their necks and heads is normally red, when they get excited, it can change to blue or white.

Pretty cool. And researchers thought so, too. In fact, by studying turkey skin, researchers at UC Berkeley found that skin color was determined by the organization of underlying bundles of collagen (structural proteins). When a turkey gets excited, blood vessels in the skin contract, exposing collagen bands and altering the way light reflects off the turkey’s skin. So researchers decided to re-create the collagen structures in order to develop a sensor that changes colors in the presence of different compounds.

They developed a sensor that can detect low levels of the explosive TNT, and created an iPhone app that can analyze the color changes. And it works- this system can detect TNT at concentrations as low as 300 parts per billion! Now, in addition to having a cool color-changing party trick, the turkey can add “bomb detection inspiration” to its resume!

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/39487/title/Dermatologically-Derived/