Scientists give mice infrared vision, turning them into tiny Predators

Gwen Vasquez
March 4, 2019

The technique doesn't confer the ability to see the longer-wavelength infrared light given off by living bodies and other warm objects, Tian Xue, a neuroscientist at the University of Science and Technology of China and a co-author of the paper, said in an email. Yes, the human eye is a marvel in itself, but the ability to see beyond the visible spectrum is just not within its capabilities.

Because the new technology is compatible with regular vision, it could provide a new way for mammalian vision enhancement or even open up new avenues to fix normal vision - you could tinker with the nanoparticles so they parse different wavelengths or alter them enough that they deliver drugs into the eye.

For their research, Han, Xue and their collaborators injected the rodents' eyes with nanoparticles treated with proteins that helped "glue" the particles to light-sensitive cells in the animals' retinas. The new nanotechnology has potential application in a number of fields including security and military operations, according to the scientists.

The study, published this week in the journal Cell, documented how mice were able to see infrared light for up to 10 weeks after being given a single injection of nanoparticles into their eyes.

The mice were injected with photon "up-conversion" nanoparticles that converted low-energy, invisible protons, like near-infrared light, to high-energy ones that are visible.

Seeing near infrared light directly would mean army personnel on unsafe missions would no longer need to wear cumbersome night vision goggles.

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The mice were also tested in a Y-shaped water maze to see if they could tell between different light patterns. Once the tiny antennae were in place, the scientists hypothesized, the nanoparticles would convert infrared light into shorter wavelengths, which the animals would then perceive as green light. Mice that received the injections showed unconscious physical signs that they were detecting infrared light, such as their pupils constricting, while mice injected with only the buffer solution didn't respond to infrared light.

Sometimes, there were side effects in which cloudy corneas appeared, but disappeared within a week. "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.

Current infrared technology relies on detectors and cameras that are often limited by ambient daylight and need outside power sources.

The researchers also think more work can be done to fine tune the emission spectrum of the nanoparticles to suit human eyes, which utilize more cones than rods for their central vision compared to mouse eyes.

A recent scientific breakthrough made jointly by scientists in China and the United States will enable mammals to see in the dark, and also serve as the basis for fixing human beings color blindness.

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