When you’re nature’s ideal killing machine, perhaps color vision is merely an unnecessary affection. New research argues that sharks could be completely colorblind.
An Australian team led by Nathan Scott Hart investigated 17 shark species, peeking at the structure of their rod and cone photoreceptor cells in the retina. Human eyes come with red, green, and blue cone variations, allowing us to see in color. But not shark eyes. They appear to have just one kind of cone.
“Our study shows that contrast against the background, rather than color per se, may be more important for object detection by sharks,” Hart said. [CNN]
That, Hart says, may explain the common wisdom that sharks love yellow (and therefore you ought to avoid sunny swimsuits). It may be the reflective quality of yellow that catches a shark’s eye, not the hue itself.
“Bright yellow is supposed to be attractive to some sharks, presumably because it appears to the sharks as a very bright target against the water,” said Dr Hart. “So perhaps it is best to avoid those fluoro-yellow shorts next time you are in the surf.” [BBC News]
For two squirrel monkeys nicknamed Dalton and Sam, life has gotten a lot more colorful. Researchers used gene therapy to correct the color blindness of the two adult monkeys, giving them the ability to distinguish between red and green for the first time. The fascinating accomplishment suggests that scientists may someday be able to cure other kinds of blindness in humans. And because the treated monkeys were “middle aged”, it challenges the assumption that gene therapies cannot work in adults because their brain connections are too set in their ways to change beneficially [New Scientist].
The field of gene therapy, in which a malfunctioning gene in a patient’s body is replaced with a functional one, fell into disarray one decade ago following the death of an 18-year-old in a clinical trial. But since then scientists have regrouped, using animal studies to probe the technique’s safety. Last year, researchers progressed to the point of safety trials in humans for the treatment of one rare eye condition called Leber congenital amaurosis, and were able to dramatically improve the patients’ sight. Those results were stunning, but they were also achieved in children, whose still-growing brains can rewire themselves on the fly in response to new sources of visual stimuli [Wired.com].
In the new study, published in Nature, the researchers used a type of squirrel monkey in which the males lack a visual pigment called L-opsin. Its absence renders the monkeys color-blind, unable to distinguish reds and green. Most of the females, on the other hand, see in full color. So the scientists got to wondering: what would happen if they gave a boy squirrel monkey the same opsin that girls have [Scientific American]. They used a harmless virus to ferry in the gene that makes opsin, injecting the virus behind the monkeys’ retinas.