Chinese, US scientists give mice night vision

Cristina Cross
March 4, 2019

Wavelengths longer than 700 nanometers are invisible to us and are designated as "infrared" (and even longer wavelengths are things like microwaves and radio waves, which we certainly can not see).

Did you know that a simple injection can give mice the power to see in infrared? The visible spectrum extends from 380 nanometers to 740 nanometers, which is outside the infrared spectrum whose wavelengths extend from 800 nanometers all the way one millimeter.

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.

The injected nanoparticles anchored themselves to photoreceptors within the eyes of the mice.

By injecting specially designed nanoparticles directly into the eyes of the mice, the animals exhibited the ability to see near infrared light. Mammals can see wavelengths in just a sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum, and the new technique is created to widen that sliver.

The researchers said the mice's ability to see visible light was not impaired and the effects lasted for as long as 10 weeks.

Researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China and the University of Massachusetts Medical School developed an "ocular nanoparticle" that can detect near-infrared light (NIR).

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Seeing near infrared light directly would mean army personnel on risky missions would no longer need to wear cumbersome night vision goggles. The particles adhere to the photoreceptors in the animals' eyes, and when infrared light hits them it produces a signal that is sent to the animal's brain in the same way as visible light. The rod or cone then absorbs the shorter wavelengths and sends them to the brain for translation.

"So, we believe this technology will also work in human eyes, not only for generating supervision but also for therapeutic solutions in human red color vision deficits", said Dr. Xue.

Nanoparticle (green) shown binding to the rods (violet) and cones (red) of the eye's retina.

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 sub-retinal injections.

The researchers believe the bio-integrated nanoparticles are more desirable for potential infrared applications in civilian encryption, security and military operations. Humans use more cones than rods in their central vision compared to mice, so that the emission spectrum could be tuned to be appropriate for human eyes.

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

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