Tuesday, May 31, 2016

How far will we see?

From the Pantropy stories of James Blish to novels like Frederik Pohl’s Man Plus, speculative fiction writers have often dreamed about changing the basic human design. Science fiction is quickly becoming science fact.

For the first time ever a blind woman has been injected with a virus containing DNA from a light-sensitive algae. The hope is that the DNA will bind to the ganglion nerve cells in her eye to replace damaged photoreceptors that would otherwise send optical signals to the brain.

But why stop with visible light? Now scientists in the US are implanting sensors that detect infra-red directly into the brains of mice. By using a series of switches that reward the mice with food when an IR emitter is pressed, the mice have been trained to recognise and interpret infra-red impulses. In effect they ‘see’ infra-red. Further experiments will increase the sensory bandwidth to include ultra-violet, microwaves and beyond, culminating in animals that can see all wavelengths.

Meanwhile another group is trying to isolate the genetic or chemical element that enables animals like pigeons and lobsters to sense the Earth’s magnetic field to guide navigation with a hope that the ability can be replicated in humans. So one day you may be able to ‘see’ exactly where you are with your eyes shut.

Hacking humanity has only just begun.

This article originally appeared in the 'Launch Pad' section of Beyond, my free newsletter for lovers of science and science fiction. Sign up here - http://eepurl.com/btvru1

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