Scientists have managed to give mice infrared "night vision" for up to ten weeks, using only a simple injection with no side effects, raising the possibility of future human use.
When infrared light reaches the retina, the nanoparticles capture and transform its long wavelengths into shorter ones.
The researchers made nanoparticles that could anchor tightly to photoreceptor cells and act as tiny infrared light transducers.
Mammals, however, can only see visible light: the wavelengths below and beyond the ranges of about 380 to 740 nanometres in the electromagnetic spectrum are invisible to us. Because wavelengths that were too long had now been morphed into something more digestible, to the brain, it was as if the retina had been hit by visible light. The researchers state that the breakthrough might also be able to help people born with severe colour blindness.
The technology still needs to be fine-tuned but scientists hope to make it suitable for the human eyes. While many emphasised the wonderful implications, others were less certain, speaking of possible dangers, including the ethical implications. In an experiment, the mice were able to navigate a series of maze tasks - which they normal-vision peers could not - showing that they could simultaneously sense both infrared and visible light.
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This may have been caused by the injection process alone because mice that only received injections of the dummy solution had a similar rate of these minor problems. Other tests found no damage to the retina's structure following the injections.
We don't know how exactly the mice in this experiment perceived infrared through their vision, but what seems likely is that they could.
This is the layer at the back of the eyeball that contains cells sensitive to light.
"We have shown that both rods and cones bind these nanoparticles and were activated by the near infrared light", Xue said.
Current infrared technology relies on detectors and cameras that are often limited by ambient daylight and need outside power sources. 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", he added. It costs a lot to produce.
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