Melanin is the pigment that imparts colour to the skin, eyes and hair. It could soon be the face of a new generation of bio-friendly devices used in medical sensors and tissue stimulation treatments.
A study conducted by Paul Meredith and Ben Powell from the University of Queensland and other scientists provides remarkable insight into the electrical properties of this pigment and its biologically compatible "bio-electronic" features.
"Semiconductors are arguably the most important modern day high-tech material - they drive all modern electronics. The majority of semiconductors are made from inorganic elements or compounds such as silicon or gallium arsenide," said Meredith, a professor, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported.
Organic semiconductors, on the other hand, are a relatively new member of the semiconductor family and are composed of molecules containing carbon, hydrogen and other elements, said a university statement.
"There are very few examples of natural organic semiconductors and melanin was thought to be the very first example, demonstrated to be such in the early 70s," said Meredith.
Co-author Powell, associate professor, said that in semiconductors, such as those found in computers and mobile phones, electrons carry electrical current. However, in biological systems, such as brains and muscles, ions carry the current. "We've now found that in melanin, both electrons and ions play important roles," he said.
"Melanin is able to 'talk' to both electronic and ionic control circuitry and hence can provide that connection role," said Meredith about the finding, the culmination of 10 years of research and experiments.