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March 05, 2003


Slate is starting a series titled Superman: The quest to build better people [1]. Dave Plotz starts out with vision.

[1] The use of the term "better" is a bit audacious, but oh well, I prefer different-or the clinical euphamism "enhanced." But even "defects" such as color-blindness are not always defects, I remember reading that sometimes colorblind sharp-shooters are preferred as they can detect motion better.

Posted by razib at 05:13 PM

Very interesting. The first two parts of the article (better laser vision correction, 'cyborg' eyes) are not so special: the first is an incremental improvement on existing technique while the other simply hasn't shown much promise (at least as a way of improving on existing vision). The gene therapy is another story. I am surprised they did not mention the search for tetrachromats in the existing population: some women are believed to express two slightly different genes for the lower-frequency [red] sensitive photopigment, giving them additional ability to differentiate colors. There was an article about it a while back: http://www.redherring.com/mag/issue86/mag-mutant-86.html
There is also some evidence that people achieve a kind of tetrachromacy under certain lighting conditions by using the difference between the rod inputs and the blue cones as a separate input: http://www.iscc.org/aic2001/abstracts/poster/Gavrik.doc
You also have some crackpots who say that humans have a UV photopigment, but that the eye's optics block almost all the input: http://www.4colorvision.com/files/tetrachromat.htm
Last but not least, for those who are interested in the genetics underlying the three human cone pigments (opsins), here's a rather crunchy paper on the topic: http://www.allpsych.uni-giessen.de/karl/colbook/sharpe.pdf

Posted by: bbartlog at March 6, 2003 08:13 AM