In another indication of the frightening pace at which nano and biotechnology is now moving, scientists have developed a technique that gives mice a near infra-red spectrum of vision, allowing them to see in the dark. Night goggles use infrared light and researchers have found a similar effect can be achieved by injecting specially designed ‘nanoparticles’ directly into the eyes of mice. And humans could follow.
After injection, the nanoparticles that gave the mice ‘super sight’ sit at the back of their retinas. From that position, they convert near infrared light that is normally invisible to the eye into a form of visible light. Effectively meaning the mice could see in the dark in a way similar to how they would if fitted with a set of high-tech night goggles like those used in the military. Over several weeks, the body gradually removes the nanoparticles without any visible ill effects on the mice.
Further research is still required before the technique can be judged to genuinely have no side effects but the initial findings are highly promising. If that does prove to be the case, there is no obvious reason why the biotech technique couldn’t then be applied to humans. That could potentially mean professionals that today need to use often bulky night vision equipment, such as special forces, would instead be given a ‘night vision jab’.
The researchers behind the study, from the University of Massachusetts, this week presented their findings at the autumn meeting of the American Chemical Society. The mice were first trained to swim through a water maze, following triangular signs and ignoring circular ‘red herrings’. The signs were illuminated by normal, everyday visible light. After they had been injected with the nanoparticles, the signs were instead lit with infrared light that would not ordinarily have been visible to the mice. But they were able to see and follow them.
Gang Han who was part of the research team commented:
“The mice with the particle injection could see the triangle clearly and swam to it each time, but the mice without the injection could not see or tell the difference between the two shapes.”
The science behind the biotechnology is that the nanoparticles pick up light with longer wavelengths than red light, that would normally be invisible to animals, which have evolved to only see a narrow section in the middle of the electromagnetic spectrum. The particles convert ‘light’ longer, normally invisible, wavelengths, into light that falls within the visible spectrum of animals.
Being able to see a much broader spectrum of wavelengths would allow us to look at the world around us, and the universe beyond, in ‘a whole new light’. As Gang Han explained:
“When we look at the universe, we see only visible light. But if we had near-infrared vision, we could see the universe in a whole new way. We might be able to do infrared astronomy with the naked eye, or have night vision without bulky equipment.”