Published: Mon, March 04, 2019
Science | By Michele Flores

Scientists Figured Out How To Make Mice See in Infrared

Scientists Figured Out How To Make Mice See in Infrared

In the 2000 science fiction film Pitch Black, an escaped prisoner who's received prison surgery that enables him to see in the dark uses his superhuman enhancement to fight off species of alien predators on what was supposed to be a deserted planet. So can the fearsome Predator. This tech worked with the structures that already exist in the eye to push vision beyond the realm of visible light. This would indicate that the nanoparticles and conventional vision were working simultaneously.

Neuroscientist Dr Jin Bao, a member of Prof Xue's lab, said: "In our experiment, nanoparticles absorbed infrared light around 980 nm (nanometres) in wavelength and converted it into light peaked at 535 nm, which made the infrared light appear as the colour green". They then injected it directly into the eyes of mice.

Essentially, they created a Supermouse. Humans and other mammals are only able to see certain wavelengths of light called visible light. Typically, our eyes only respond to wavelengths in the spectrum between approximately 400 and 700 nanometers. The nanotechnology works by binding with the retinal cells in the eye that convert light into electric signals.

The nanoparticles work by anchoring to the mouse's photoreceptor cells, with the rodent then subjected to infrared light, with nanoparticles capturing the infrared wavelengths and retransmitting shorter wavelengths within the visible light range.

The researchers said the mice's ability to see visible light was not impaired and the effects lasted for as long as 10 weeks. The pupils of mice given the injection contracted, whereas the control group's pupils did not.

And that's exactly what happened. The modified mice, however, didn't like the infrared light compartment, suggesting they were indeed seeing the infrared light.

By the way, near-infrared light appeared green to the mice.

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According to the research team, which included study senior author Tian Xue from the University of Science & Technology of China, and Gang Han from the University of Massachusetts' Medical School, the groundbreaking work may eventually lead to infrared vision among humans.

Mice that did not receive the ocular injections only correctly found the platform 50 percent of the time, but those with the nanoparticles lurking in their eyes were able to do so around 80 percent of the time even in the dark.

It was observed that in the treated mice, the enhanced effects wore off in about a fortnight, and had no unfortunate side effects on the health or vision of the animals.

Mice are already masters of lurking in the shadows, well out of sight of prying human eyes, but researchers in the US and China just turned a few of them into serious superheroes.

So it might be a while before we're seeing in the near-infrared.

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

But hey, it's still a pretty good origin story.

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