Humans with "supervision" could be on the horizon

This image shows nanoparticles in green binding to the rods and cones of the mouse retina.Y. Ma et al. 2019

This image shows nanoparticles in green binding to the rods and cones of the mouse retina.Y. Ma et al. 2019

Researchers have discovered that by injecting nanoparticles into the eyeballs of mice, it allowed them to see in infrared vision. This could open up a new door in human infrared technologies with applications extending to security and military operations, scientists from the University of Science and Technology of China said. When the visible light was replaced with infrared, the mice that had been injected in the eyes detected this and avoided the brighter side.

The technology still needs to be fine-tuned but scientists hope to make it suitable for the human eyes. The technology cannot only generate super vision but also provide a therapeutic solution in human red color vision deficits. Rather than modifying the photoreceptor, the technology involves a tiny antenna that converts the near-infrared (NIR) light into visible green light observable by the retina, and the resulting data would get interpreted as visible light by the brain.

We don't know how exactly the mice in this experiment perceived infrared through their vision, but what seems likely is that they could. The particles were created to absorb the longer IR wavelengths and emit the shorter visible wavelengths, which are in turn absorbed by photoreceptor cells that signal the brain.

For up to 10 weeks at a time, mice could see infrared light even during the day, and with enough accuracy to distinguish between different shapes.

Mice with vision enhanced by nanotechnology were able to see infrared light as well as visible light, reports a study published February 28 in the journal Cell.

"When light enters the eye and hits the retina, the rods and cones-or photoreceptor cells-absorb the photons with visible light wavelengths and send corresponding electric signals to the brain", explained Gang Han, co-author of the paper and an associate professor at UMass. The pupils of mice given the injection contracted, whereas the control group's pupils did not. Although there was a minor side effect (a cloudy cornea), it disappeared within less than a week. The researchers state that the breakthrough might also be able to help people born with severe colour blindness. Human eyes have a retinal structure called the fovea, which has a much higher density of cones than rods, while mice have more rods than cones.

"This is an exciting subject because the technology we made possible here could eventually enable human beings to see beyond our natural capabilities", says Xue.
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