Researchers Create Super-Mice That Can See Infrared!
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Supermice that can see Infrared- Researchers used a nanoparticle solution to grant ordinary mice the ability to see in near-infrared.

Most mammals, including humans, can only see in a narrow range of the electromagnetic spectrum, called visible rays. The visible spectrum ranges from 380 nanometers to 740 nanometers, which is outside the infrared spectrum whose wavelengths extend from 800 nanometers to one millimeter. Gang Han, the study’s principal investigator and a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said Humans could only see visible light. Having the ability to see Infrared would enable humans to have night vision without the use of bulky equipment.

Human Beings can see visible light due to unique structures present in the eyes known as rods and cones. They are photoreceptor cells in the retina that absorb photons of light and send corresponding electric signals to the brain. But not all light is absorbed since some wavelengths are too short or too long. As on now, we use specialized equipment’s such as telescopes or thermal cameras to see objects that give off infrared light. Thermal Cameras are equipped with detectors that translate IR radiation by assigning each temperature a shade of a color. Colder temperatures are often given a shade of blue, purple, or green. The warmer temperatures can be assigned a shade of red, orange, or yellow.

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Supermice that can see Infrared
Pictorial Representation of the Procedure performed by the Scientists. Credits: Hans Lab, UMass Medical School

Supermice that can see Infrared- Procedure Involved to Create the mice Han and colleagues injected a particular type of nanoparticles called upconversion nanoparticles (UCNPs) into the eyes of ordinary mice. The nanoparticle solution contains elements such as erbium and ytterbium. These can convert low-energy infrared photons into higher-energy green light that is visible. To test whether the mice could indeed detect infrared, the researchers devised a series of physiological and behavioral tests. During one such test, the mice were placed in a Y-shaped tank of water. Here one of the branches had an opening through which the rodents could escape. The escape route was marked with visible light in the shape of a triangle, while the other blocked end was marked with a similarly lit circle.

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Credits: Hans Lab, UMass Medical School 

After various rounds of training, the visible light was replaced with near-infrared. Hans said that the mice with the particle injection could see the triangle clearly and swim to it each time, but the mice without the dose could not see or tell the difference between the two shapes. Single-dose of nanoparticles in the eyes of the mice gave them infrared vision (IR) for up to 10 weeks. Although there was a minor side effect. The cloudy cornea was seen though it disappeared in a week’s time. Tests found no damage to the retina’s structure, suggesting that the procedure was safe. However, before the same could be done to humans, there’s still a lot of work to do. For one, there are biocompatibility uncertainties since the UCNPs are inorganic. Han and team would like to replace them with organic dyes instead of rare-earth elements. Besides enabling human beings to see beyond our natural capabilities, the procedure could be useful in medicine to correct human red color vision deficits or to trigger drug release upon contact with infrared light.

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Rahul Mishra is a Science enthusiast and eager to learn something new each day. He has a degree in Microbiology and has joined forces with Biotecnika in 2019 due to his passion for writing and science.