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By David Freeman
No one has given up their night vision goggles yet, but scientists working in the United States and China have developed a technique they believe could one day allow humans to see in the dark.
The technique involves injecting into the eyes particles that act as small antennas that capture infrared light – wavelengths invisible to humans and other mammals – and convert it into lengths. visible wave. Mammals can see wavelengths in only a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, and the new technique is designed to expand that portion.
Injections of nanoparticles have not yet been tried in humans, but experiments on mice have shown that they confer the ability to see infrared light without disturbing the perception of light in the body. visible. The effect worked during the day and night and lasted several weeks. The rodents were left unharmed once they disappeared.
Gang Han, a chemist from the University of Massachusetts Faculty of Medicine and co-author of a new article describing the research, said in a statement that this technique could help better understand visual perception and possibly new methods of color treatment. blindness.
But these are far from the only possible applications if the technique can be designed to work safely in other mammals, including humans. In an email to NBC News MACH, Han said that it might be possible to use nanoparticle injections to create "super-dogs" to help apprehend criminals in the future. 39; darkness.
"For ordinary people," he added, "we can also see our sky in a completely different way," both night and day, because many celestial objects emit infrared light .
The technique does not confer the ability to see the longer wave length infrared light emitted by living bodies and other hot objects, said Tian Xue, neuroscientist at the University of Science and Technology. China technologies and co-author of the article, in an email. But at least theoretically, it could give humans the ability to see bodies and objects in the dark without using night vision equipment – although infrared light would still be needed.
For their research, Han, Xue and their collaborators injected into rodent eyes nanoparticles treated with proteins that helped "stick" the particles to light-sensitive cells in the animal's retina. The scientists hypothesized that nanoparticles would convert infrared light into shorter wavelengths, which animals would then perceive as a green light.
To make sure that the mice saw the converted infrared light, the scientists subjected the animals to a number of tests, including a test in which they had the choice to enter a totally dark or illuminated area. only with infrared light. (The mice are nocturnal and generally prefer darkness.) The control animals showed no preference – because the two boxes seemed dark – while the treated mice showed a marked preference for the dark box.
Other scientists have praised the research while expressing doubts about the possibility of trying the technique in humans.
Harvard neuroscientist Michael Do said in an email that the experiments were "sophisticated" and that the technique was likely to work in both humans and mice. But he said that it was not clear how far the infrared vision would be clear in humans, and he warned that the injections could damage the delicate structures of the eye.
Glen Jeffery, neuroscientist at University College London, expressed the same praise for the research, but more serious doubts yet. "Injecting any material under the retina is risky and should never be done unless for a clear and justifiable clinical reason (…)," he said in an email. "I do not know how you could use this technology for the benefit of humans and I would never support its application on healthy humans."
But the researchers are moving forward. Han said the team is planning to test this technique on larger animals, possibly dogs.
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