Nanotechnology Could Give Humans Infrared Vision

An image showing nanoparticles binding to rods and cones

An image showing nanoparticles binding to rods and cones

The nanoparticles in the injection, however, latch onto the photoreceptor cells and act as tiny transducers.

Scientists transformed ordinary rodents into "super mice" by giving them the ability to see infrared light - a technique they say could one day be used on humans.

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.

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

Gang Han at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, explained that "when light enters the eye and hits the retina, the rods and cones - or photoreceptor cells - absorb the photons with visible light wavelengths and send corresponding electric signals to the brain".

This led to the mice developing infrared vision - without compromising their normal sight.

Scientists from the United States and China have given mice the ability to see near-infrared light, a wavelength not normally visible to the rodents (or human beings, for that matter), by injecting nanoparticles into their eyes. "We may have the capability to view all the hidden information from NIR and IR radiation in the universe which is invisible to our naked eyes".

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The findings appeared in the journal Cell.

If humans could see infrared light, motorists could avoid accidentally hitting pedestrians by seeing their heat signatures in the dark.

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".

Researchers found that those critters receiving injections showed unconscious physical signs of infrared light detection (like pupils constricting), while the control group didn't respond. Although there was a minor side effect (a cloudy cornea), it disappeared within less than a week. This may have been caused by the injection process alone because mice that only received injections of the buffer solution had a similar rate of these side effects.

The technology still needs to be fine-tuned but scientists hope to make it suitable for the human eyes. The researchers believe the bio-integrated nanoparticles are more desirable for potential infrared applications in civilian encryption, security, and military operations.

Besides the whole superhuman capability, the researchers say their work presents an opportunity to explore neural networks in the brain and potentially assist with vision fix.

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