Eye patches: Protein assembly of index-gradient squid lenses
A parabolic relationship between lens radius and refractive index allows spherical lenses to avoid spherical aberration. We show that in squid, patchy colloidal physics resulted from an evolutionary radiation of globular S-crystallin proteins. Small-angle x-ray scattering experiments on lens tissue show colloidal gels of S-crystallins at all radial positions. Sparse lens materials form via low-valence linkages between disordered loops protruding from the protein surface. The loops are polydisperse and bind via a set of hydrogen bonds between disordered side chains. Peripheral lens regions with low particle valence form stable, volume-spanning gels at low density, whereas central regions with higher average valence gel at higher densities. The proteins demonstrate an evolved set of linkers for self-assembly of nanoparticles into volumetric materials.