Humans could one day be given the power of “super vision” which would allow them to see in the dark, scientists have said.
Nanoparticles inserted into the eyes of mice boosted their natural abilities beyond the normal range of colours and enabled the rodents to see infrared light.
Using the new procedure the research team at the University of Science and Technology of China said they could actually modify someone’s vision to detect a wider spectrum of colours, with potential military applications.
“We could give humans night vision abilities, without the night vision goggles,” lead researcher Dr Tian Xue told The Independent.
Along with extending natural vision, Dr Xue and his team think the technique could even be adapted as a treatment for people who are colour-blind and unable to perceive red.
The colours that people can normally see are just a small fraction of the entire electromagnetic spectrum, which also includes extreme shades like infrared and ultraviolet.
These signals, which have either much longer or shorter wavelengths than the rainbow spectrum we are familiar with, are constantly bouncing around us.
Human and mouse eyes both contain rods and cones – cells that absorb light and convert it into electrical impulses that are sent to our brains. Infrared wavelengths are too long for these cells to absorb.
Publishing their findings in the journal Cell, the scientists said that they used tiny particles that functioned as accessories to these cells, anchoring tightly onto them and capturing the larger wavelengths.
The nanoparticles then convert these signals into shorter wavelengths and funnel them into the cells so they can be transmitted to the brain as green light.
Scientists injected this substance into the rodents’ eyes, before carrying out a series of tests to determine what effect they had on mouse vision.
When infrared was shone into the eye of a treated mouse, its pupil contracted in a clear signal it was detecting the light.
Further tests conducted in mazes revealed the mice could see infrared patterns shone onto a surface even during the daylight.
The injection produced minimal side effects, and the mice retained their infrared abilities for over two months.
“We believe this technology will also work in human eyes, not only for generating super-vision but also for therapeutic solutions in human red-colour vision deficits,” said Dr Xue.
The scientists also speculated about possible future applications in which nanotechnology-enhanced humans might have roles in security and military settings.
But first, Dr Xue said, the team will have to test the safety of the procedure in experiments using other primates.
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