Researchers believe that aside from allowing mice to see infrared light, more experiments can be tweaked in favor of humans seeing the same. But he said it was unclear just how sharp the infrared vision would be in humans, and he cautioned that the injections might damage delicate structures in the eye.
Because the new technology is compatible with regular vision, it could provide a new way for mammalian vision enhancement or even open up new avenues to fix normal vision - you could tinker with the nanoparticles so they parse different wavelengths or alter them enough that they deliver drugs into the eye.
Mice have been given infrared night vision by injecting nanoparticles into their eyes. These findings could lead to advancements in human infrared vision technologies, including potential applications in civilian encryption, security, and military operations. The mice proved able to see infrared even in daylight conditions, with regular light also crowding their retinas.
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Seeing near infrared light directly would mean army personnel on unsafe missions would no longer need to wear cumbersome night vision goggles. Infrared light has a longer wavelength and it surrounds us, yet we're unable to see it. Humans, animals and other objects can emit infrared light through their heat, while objects can also reflect it.
"The visible light that can be perceived by human's natural vision occupies just a very small fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum", says senior author Tian Xue of the University of Science and Technology of China. When infrared light hits the retina, the longer infrared wavelengths are re-emitted into shorter wavelengths within the visible light range. When the researchers shone infrared light into the furry creatures' pupils, they constricted - a sign that their eyes were registering the light. Occasionally, the mice suffered from cloudy corneas from the injections, but these symptoms cleared up within a week.
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". (Mice are nocturnal, and ordinarily they prefer darkness.) Control animals showed no preference - because both boxes appeared dark to them - while treated mice showed a distinct preference for the dark box. Scientists believe this was caused by the injection process itself and not the nanoparticles, given that the mice that received the buffer solution also experienced the same effects. Humans use more cones than rods in their central vision compared to mice, so that the emission spectrum could be tuned to be appropriate for human eyes.
"This is an exciting subject because the technology we made possible here could eventually enable human beings to see beyond our natural capabilities", he added.