Colorblindness cured

Posted in Evolution, Perception by Mike Stay on 2009 September 18

Following up on my previous comments here, scientists have cured color blindness in monkeys:

Neitz’s team injected their monkeys’ eyes with viruses carrying a gene that makes L-opsin, one of three proteins released when color-detecting cone cells are hit by different wavelengths of light. Male squirrel monkeys naturally lack the L-opsin gene; like people who share their condition, they’re unable to distinguish between red and green.

At first, the two monkeys behaved no differently than before. Though quick to earn a grape juice reward by picking out blue and yellow dots from a background of gray dots on a computer screen, they banged the screen randomly when presented with green or red dots.

But after five months, something clicked. The monkeys picked out red and green, again and again. At the biological level, Neitz can’t say precisely what happened — the monkeys, named Sam and Dalton, are alive and healthy, their brains unscanned and undissected — but their actions left no doubt.

They think it will work identically in humans. If so, this means that we could do the same thing for the mutant version of L-opsin that tetrachromat women have, and make anyone (even a man) into a tetrachromat. Or, even more excitingly, a gene for infrared or ultraviolet light.


3 Responses

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  1. partandwhole said, on 2009 September 20 at 8:39 pm

    This is so cool Mike. I wonder what the social experience would be like, should we get humans seeing things we’ve never seen before. How long would it take for cultures to evolve with shared lexicons for the new perceived phenomena? How long before groups were confident that they were all seeing the same thing, and it was safe to use the new words that they were coining for them?

  2. reperiendi said, on 2009 September 22 at 9:02 pm

    Someone pointed out that it wouldn’t be cool to have this ability all the time–all the colors in movies and paintings would look wrong. So I guess we’d either need glasses or contacts that filter out the extra color, or we’d engineer the virus so that the retinal cells would only produce that protein in response to some stimulus we control. So for a day after eating a ham sandwich, you get to see in IR, but then it goes back to normal.

  3. reperiendi said, on 2010 December 23 at 10:07 pm

    The original article’s here:

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