This diagram depicts the spatial distribution of the five types of light-sensitive cells known as cones in the chicken retina. Scientists have proposed that this arrangement could be a new state of matter, called disordered hyperuniformity.
Never before seen in biology, a state of matter called "disordered hyperuniformity" has been discovered in the eye of a chicken.
This arrangement of particles appears disorganized over small distances but has a hidden order that allows material to behave like both a crystal and a liquid.
The discovery came as researchers were studying cones, tiny light-sensitive cells that allow for the perception of color, in the eyes of chickens. [The 9 Biggest Unsolved Mysteries in Physics]
For chickens and other birds that are most active during the daytime, these photoreceptors come in four different color varieties — violet, blue, green and red — and a fifth type for detecting light levels, researchers say. Each type of cone is a different size.
These cells are crammed into a single tissue layer on the retina. Many animals have cones arranged in an obvious pattern. Insect cones, for example are laid out in a hexagonal scheme. The cones in chicken eyes, meanwhile, appear to be in disarray.
But researchers who created a computer model to mimic the arrangement of chicken cones discovered a surprisingly tidy configuration.
Around each cone is a so-called exclusion region that bars other cones of the same variety from getting too close. This means each cone type has its own uniform arrangement, but the five different patterns of the five different cone types are layered on top of each other in a disorderly way, the researchers say.
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