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Gene Therapy for Color-blindness
September 16, 2009 12:58 PM   Subscribe

"But after five months, something clicked. The monkeys picked out red and green, again and again." UW researchers use gene therapy to give squirrel monkeys trichromatic vision. “Not only might we be able to cure disease, but we might engineer eyes with remarkable capabilities. You can imagine conferring enhanced night vision in normal eyes, or engineering genes that make photopigments with spectral properties for whatever you want your eye to see.”
posted by spitefulcrow (72 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I for one want gene therapy to let my eyes develop receptors for all of the wavelengths my corneas are transparent to. IR? UV? Bring it on.
posted by spitefulcrow at 12:59 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Optimal vision contact lenses, so you can change some of what you see. No enhanced night vision, from what I see there.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:03 PM on September 16, 2009


How long before they can help us battle unstoppable cyborgs from the future?

Just to make myself clear here, I'm on the side of the cyborgs.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:04 PM on September 16, 2009


Don't know, I don't know such stuff. I just do eyes, ju-, ju-, just eyes... just genetic design, just eyes. You Nexus, huh? I design your eyes.
posted by everichon at 1:06 PM on September 16, 2009 [31 favorites]


I remember once hearing that rats can smell in stereo and thus quickly make a beeline for food even when they can't see any visual clues. Can we get that, too?

IR would get annoying, though. Imagine sitting down to play Wii, and seeing that glowing sensor bar, and seeing a bunch of flashes every time someone plays with the volume.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:06 PM on September 16, 2009


Can I get this for the Orangutan that drives my limo? Because he keeps running red lights and the fines are racking up.
posted by hifiparasol at 1:13 PM on September 16, 2009 [12 favorites]


Halloween Jack: "Just to make myself clear here, I'm on the side of the cyborgs."

Really, anyone who would be a Luddite in that battle is pretty dumb. Even if the cyborgs only want to peacefully work and function in existing society, it's pretty clear they'll have the upper hand. They're smarter, more physically capable, and more adaptive. If I'm hiring people at my business and I have to pick between a normal guy and a cyborg, I'll almost certainly hire the cyborg. Think about it: one guy has a resume about how dynamic he is and how he works well with others, and the other guy can see through walls and directly interface with the internet with his brain.

Chances are it will happen so slowly that we won't even realize when we're all cyborgs. I mean, look at how we already enhance ourselves with pharmaceutical products. All future luddites will be either hypocrites (I have a chip that lets me send text messages from my brain, but that's it) or extremists (I live in a cave!) from our perspective.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:15 PM on September 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


All future luddites will be either hypocrites ... or extremists

Moreover, anyone who doesn't embrace augmentation technologies will find themselves swamped by those who do. It has always been thus, and it will always be thus. Anyone remember those guys who kept insisting the organized use of fire was a sacrilegious abuse of the Sky God's randomly-spewn semen?

I sure don't.
posted by aramaic at 1:22 PM on September 16, 2009 [9 favorites]


Anything that restores people to the "normal" or "baseline" is a great stride in science and everyday life. Anything that goes beyond that has a good chance at frustrating the subject.

Everyday devices are designed only within the tolerances of "normal" sensory capabilities, and those with extraordinary capabilities are frustrated. There's nothing worse than being told you're "crazy" because you're the only one in the room that sees the flicker of the fluorescent bulbs and hears the whine of the computer monitor. Distracted by the slight breezes that people make by walking across the room, as they bristle your arm hair? Me too.

Smells might very well have been the worst. There was nothing quite like having to tolerate someone with too much cologne, or the inverse, when someone cares so little for hygiene that you smell them before you see them. I could smell fish from 2 blocks away from the market. But then just on Monday, I started seeing these auras around people. Little halos and abstract glows. I'm not sure what to make of it all, but I just used up my question on Sunday, and I don't get another for 4 more days...
posted by explosion at 1:24 PM on September 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


This might be orders of magnitude less intrusive but mirrorshades implanted into the eye socket just look way cooler.
posted by PenDevil at 1:29 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


*Tenders application to UNATCO*
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:30 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's amazing that the brain is plastic enough to use those new photoreceptors.

If only you've seen what I've seen with your eyes...
posted by porpoise at 1:39 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


As a level 5 elf, I already have infravision.

But bring on the ultravision.
posted by benzenedream at 1:43 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Moreover, anyone who doesn't embrace augmentation technologies will find themselves swamped by those who do.

Hell, you should see the reactions I get when I tell people I don't own a cell phone!
posted by hippybear at 1:45 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Guys, I think... I think explosion is Daredevil.
posted by hifiparasol at 1:48 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


You fools! This was all that was keeping the squirrel monkeys from taking over!
posted by shakespeherian at 1:48 PM on September 16, 2009


> You fools! This was all that was keeping the squirrel monkeys from taking over!

If they're going to take over the world, this means they'll be handling all the paperwork and menial crap that has to be done to keep things moving, right? We should have paradise on earth. I'm okay with that.
posted by ardgedee at 1:52 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is a pretty cool article. I'll add that there is a penetrance problem here.

The monkeys all have photoreceptors in their cones that are sensitive to one of two colors. How the monkeys perceive color is dependent on how light activates these photoreceptors. When you add a third opsin (the photoreceptive protein), does it coexist with the other opsin already present on the photoreceptor? Does it win out over pre-existing opsins when it binds to the photoreceptor? Furthermore, how is it distributed amongst the photoreceptors and why? It can't be distributed equally amongst all the photoreceptors, otherwise there would be no effect. So, why did it happen this way? That's the question to answer before moving to human studies.

Really cool result though.
posted by scrutiny at 1:53 PM on September 16, 2009


Each day we get closer and closer to the truth that only gene therapy can illuminate: we are the descendants of an ancient monkey race that developed augmentation technology and transformed themselves into humans.
posted by Mister Cheese at 1:55 PM on September 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Moreover, anyone who doesn't embrace augmentation technologies will find themselves swamped by those who do. It has always been thus, and it will always be thus.

Man, you remember when we used to walk moderate distances instead of riding Segways? Yeah, me neither.
posted by Iridic at 1:56 PM on September 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Man, you remember when we used to walk moderate distances instead of riding Segways?

One day, we will all be monks with flames coming out of our head.
posted by maxwelton at 2:03 PM on September 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


Reminds me of a mediocre sci-fi story I read once called "None so Blind" with a flawed premise: that making people blind somehow made them incredibly smart. (Stupid neurological reasons postulated.) As you can guess, those who chose not to have the operation did not get all the plum science/academic jobs.

Personally, I'd like to see radio waves so I can experience synesthesia and take out this annoying tooth that currently provides me with my radio listening pleasure. It's a real bitch to change stations.
posted by kozad at 2:05 PM on September 16, 2009


ardgedee: If they're going to take over the world, this means they'll be handling all the paperwork and menial crap that has to be done to keep things moving, right? We should have paradise on earth. I'm okay with that.

As soon as we have huge monkey bureaucracies set up with the requisite number of word processors, we'll get some more Shakespeare plays to read!

that's how that works, right?
posted by shakespeherian at 2:11 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I hasten to point off trade-offs. Will those who get better night vision have trouble seeing in the daytime? There is never a free lunch.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:15 PM on September 16, 2009


There is never a free lunch.

Sure there is. Just eat the monkeys.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:18 PM on September 16, 2009 [9 favorites]


"Can I get this for the Orangutan that drives my limo? Because he keeps running red lights and the fines are racking up."

You should tell him about the international standard of traffic light positioning. That is, unless he can't tell up from down either.
posted by albrecht at 2:26 PM on September 16, 2009


Think about it: one guy has a resume about how dynamic he is and how he works well with others, and the other guy can see through walls and directly interface with the internet with his brain.

I am thinking about it... dear god! the potential for procrastination!!! I think I'll pick the guy who can't post to Metafilter by blinking in code, or watch me go to the bathroom from the hallway.
posted by carmen at 2:30 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


and the other guy can see through walls and directly interface with the internet with his brain

Erm....I don't think either of those things would improve my productivity...

[on preview] what carmen said
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:34 PM on September 16, 2009


cool article- thanks.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:45 PM on September 16, 2009


Can I get this for the Orangutan that drives my limo? Because he keeps running red lights and the fines are racking up.

That's what you get for buying him a hat three sizes too big.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:45 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Don't ever go in a Spencer's Gifts or a head shop with UV vision, trust me.

(My lens implant is coated for UV such that blacklights are a disturbing shade of white-lavender. Took me ten minutes to figure out what in the fuck was going on the first time I went to the mall after my cataract surgery.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:46 PM on September 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is the kind of thing that is really irritating. Who cares if monkeys can see colors? That doesn't do jack s*** for me. Can't you guys do something useful once in awhile, like giving me the Heat-Ray vision I've only been asking for for about 40 years now? Or what about the See-Thru-Clothing vision? Did you forget about that, too? Come on Science, throw me a bone here!

Monkeys with color vision. Who cares?
posted by silkyd at 2:46 PM on September 16, 2009


I'm torn between "I want to interface directly with computers using my brain" and "Oh god, SPYWARE IN MY CEREBRAL CORTEX GET IT OUT GET IT OUT"
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:53 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I for one want gene therapy to let my eyes develop receptors for all of the wavelengths my corneas are transparent to. IR?

You'll want near infrared opsins then. Or "pervert's choice" as they're known on the street.
posted by kersplunk at 2:57 PM on September 16, 2009


how long before i can blink at something a couple of times and pull a full color copy out of my ass?
posted by kitchenrat at 2:58 PM on September 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


Reminds me of a mediocre sci-fi story I read once called "None so Blind" with a flawed premise: that making people blind somehow made them incredibly smart. (Stupid neurological reasons postulated.) As you can guess, those who chose not to have the operation did not get all the plum science/academic jobs.

That's not exactly the premise: it's that there's a way to make people incredibly smart, but it also makes them blind. Subtle but important difference. Also, it won the Hugo.
posted by Amanojaku at 3:08 PM on September 16, 2009


There are none so blind as those who will not see... in new TechnoVision 360 Futura OmniVision PlusTM!!! Ask your doctor if TechnoVision 360 Futura OmniVision PlusTM is right for you. May cause blindness and squirrel monkeys.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:14 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's amazing that the brain is plastic enough to use those new photoreceptors.

It really is, isn't it? It's like the people who are experimenting with the primate and the robotic arm, where the ape is feeding itself and treating the arm as if it's a part of its own anatomy.

It nothing short of awesome how quickly animals can adapt.
posted by quin at 3:15 PM on September 16, 2009


No one has mentioned tetrachromacy yet. Some people can already have more than 3 color receptors and can distinguish between, e.g., pure violet and purple.
posted by Araucaria at 3:25 PM on September 16, 2009


this is amazing! now maybe someday my dad will be able to see all the crazy shirts my mom gives him to wear.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:25 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


However if you have this ability, you likely are female and your sons will be color blind, so this new therapy may be useful for them.
posted by Araucaria at 3:26 PM on September 16, 2009


I see red people.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:27 PM on September 16, 2009


Hey... technically we're animals too.

Robotic arm please...
posted by theDTs at 3:30 PM on September 16, 2009


The colors...!

I think this is an astoundingly awesome discovery. It has broad implications for using viral gen therapy for addressing all kinds of disabilities. Next up: introducing new insulin-generating genes into the pancreas to completely cure diabetes.

I'm terribly excited about the possibilities.
posted by darkstar at 3:34 PM on September 16, 2009


how long before i can blink at something a couple of times and pull a full color copy out of my ass?

You can do that now if you blink at poop.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:46 PM on September 16, 2009 [10 favorites]


"IR? UV? Bring it on."
You're already sensitive to UV. Just that your cornea blocks it, IIRC.
posted by edd at 4:08 PM on September 16, 2009


Next up: introducing new insulin-generating genes into the pancreas to completely cure diabetes.

This won't fix diabetes unfortunately, as the lack of an insulin-coding gene isn't what causes it.
posted by kersplunk at 4:13 PM on September 16, 2009


We could, however, fix our dud Vitamin C gene, freeing us from our dependency on pesky fresh fruit and vegetables.
posted by kersplunk at 4:14 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Brain plasticity is amazing. Over on /. there have been a couple of mentions of creating a "new sense" by simply strapping a vibrating indicator to peoples' bodies that constantly reminds them of the direction of true North. They quickly get so used to the directional sense that they aren't aware of the device at all, and come to completely take it for granted.
posted by localroger at 4:20 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


That is fantastic.

Colour-blindness often reminds me of something that happened in one of my Psychology courses a few years back. The professor was showing us a colour-blindness test and was explaining what it is we're supposed to see and what it is colour-blind people can see. One person in the 300 student class found out he was colour blind. It was kind of sad. Then another student found out he was adopted (but that's another story).
posted by joni. at 4:21 PM on September 16, 2009


creating a "new sense" by simply strapping a vibrating indicator to peoples' bodies that constantly reminds them of the direction of true North

This sense. It vibrates?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:24 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


So I just read Mark Changizi's book, The Vision Revolution. It's really quite good. Among other things, it shows the actual response curve for "M" (the green sensor) and "L" (the red sensor). They're really close. S, the blue opsin, is way down there, while M and L are separated by a small distance...

...the distance of a peak and trough in skin color.

His theory is M and L split, and that they did so because it allowed us to effectively use skin as a rough pulse oximeter, measuring both oxygenation and quantity of blood underneath the surface. It's really, really compelling data.

The best part is when he points out that primates that do have color vision almost uniformly have bare skin, while primates that don't are furry all over. The data is really quite clean.

It's possible earlier in the evolutionary history, these monkeys were once trichromatic. Or it's possible that, given the sudden signal deviation, the brain doesn't have any problem differentiating signals. What's weird is I remember there's a fair amount of encoding that goes into the red/green opposition, just in terms of what goes over the optic nerve. I wonder how that changed.
posted by effugas at 4:34 PM on September 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


I know this is really being developed to treat people with some form of genetic blindness, but as someone who has adult-onset color blindness, I'd be so, so, happy to get that back.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:34 PM on September 16, 2009


Here is an article that talks about the vibrating direction indicator localroger talks about and a few other devices.
posted by hindmost at 4:44 PM on September 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


As someone born with fairly severe color blindness, I'd appreciate being able to see what everyone else around me sees instead of this limited palette.
posted by Blackanvil at 4:50 PM on September 16, 2009


Being color blind has been a severe pain in the ass career wise, so after the operation I'm first going to become an electrician, then a fireman, FBI agent, test pilot, astronaut and finally, interior decorator.
posted by digsrus at 4:55 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Next up: introducing new insulin-generating genes into the pancreas to completely cure diabetes.

This won't fix diabetes unfortunately, as the lack of an insulin-coding gene isn't what causes it.


Well regulated insulin production will fix type I diabetes (autoimmune) but not type II diabetes (insulin resistance).

The gene therapy experiments to get insulin produced have been done long ago. The much larger problem is to get insulin released in response to food, but not overproduce so that the insulin kills you:
The β-cell is, however, remarkably sophisticated, and many of the features of this highly differentiated secretory cell will have to be faithfully mimicked in surrogate cells. In particular, insulin is normally secreted in a well-regulated fashion in rapid response to the metabolic needs of the individual and most specifically (but not exclusively) to changes in circulating levels of glucose. [free 2001 review]
posted by benzenedream at 6:45 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Changizi's book is not completely in line with primatology's canonical view of the evolution of trichromacy. Humans, the other apes, and most Old World monkeys (in Africa and Asia) have trichromatic vision. Vision's a lot more variable in the New World. Most primates there are dichromatic, but there are exceptions.

Most primatologists believe that trichromatic vision improves an individual's ability to see red or orange fruit against a background of green leaves [1, 2, 3]. It's not all a benefit though, as you sacrifice some visual acuity, especially in low light. The owl monkey (the only nocturnal monkey) cannot see color at all, for theoretically this reason.

However, male and female howler monkeys are trichromatic, and they eat leaves, not fruit. They have been fit into the theory by saying there's a difference between reddish leaves and greenish leaves. [4]

Then, Changizi [5] and others suggested that there were social reasons that spurred the evolution of color vision in primates. See for instance, the coloration of the mandrill or the swelling that indicates estrus in a baboon.

Recent analyses [6] generally side with the traditional view, that trichromatic color vision arose to improve foraging efficiency. This does not preclude the possibility that trichromacy was "borrowed" from its original purpose to serve a social purpose. This has been termed the "pre-existing bias hypothesis." Primates only started evolving wacky color schemes and bare faces to show emotion after the color vision evolved to serve its initial adaptive purpose: finding good food.
posted by bergeycm at 6:56 PM on September 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Pepsi Blue Genes
posted by Skygazer at 7:01 PM on September 16, 2009


Brain plasticity is amazing. Over on /. there have been a couple of mentions of creating a "new sense" by simply strapping a vibrating indicator to peoples' bodies that constantly reminds them of the direction of true North. They quickly get so used to the directional sense that they aren't aware of the device at all, and come to completely take it for granted.

There were links about this here some months ago, and I have never been able to forget about this. Anyone know if this will be commercially available anytime soon? I would love to add this sensory ability.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:04 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


edit for fewer "this"
posted by Meatbomb at 7:05 PM on September 16, 2009


Soon, we will succeed in engineering monkeys into mantis shrimp. Except with less stabby. I assume.

kozad: A cautionary tale for you.
posted by hattifattener at 7:14 PM on September 16, 2009


The video I posted previously (video is linked as doesn't think so) mentions work in this direction at a bit past the 20 minute mark, but that was in mice.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:27 PM on September 16, 2009


Robotic arm please...

Personally, I want robotic arms. Doc Octopus style.

But I want millimeter wave radar first. I'd spring for a toggleable mm wave overlay the moment it became available.
posted by Netzapper at 8:03 PM on September 16, 2009


Brain plasticity - recently there was the human adult woman with gene transfer to compensate for her genetic congenital blindness.

The thing about the 'plastic brain' is that common thought (by *gasp* brain scientists) is that there's a window where brain regions develop. After that window (depending on the region and the inputs; sensory, vision, language the length and the when differ... lots) the ability to use or develop or fine-tune or whatever that part of the brain decreases - and decreases a *lot.*

Then again, it's well known that, at least for sensations and motor function, adjacent parts of the brain are able (or maybe forcefully) take over the part that's no longer innervated (ie., person becomes parapalegic; nipples get really really sensitive), so maybe to get "smarter" one would have to deprogram parts of the brain.

I think that there's a lot of older labs that are going to get beat down in the coming years; the old paradigm that mature brains are worse at learning new things is going to change into that old brains have learned that there are certain things and are either resistant to change or doesn't have the spare room to change; but maybe old brains can be tricked into learning new things just as well as young brains maybe through something like 'double-think' - if the old stuff is taking up synaptic networking space, maybe making new synaptic networks would be more effective than ablating existing networks and replacing them.

I guess the trick (to getting rich and famouse, or just tenure) is to figure out how to do that. And making it sexy to the public.

quin - yes, totally fracking cool! It would be interesting to see if, in an adult once all the learning has been set, if the new limb is as dextrous as the original limbs and if the original limbs remain as dextrous - and whether it's different if the new artificial limb fares differently if an original limb was removed first.

localroger - there are people who implant small neodynium magnets into the tips of their fingers; they report that they can sense electrical current. A little more philosophically complete than having a compass point imposed upon you. For you, Meatbomb.

Robotic arms? Naw, robotic mind-controlled prehensile tail (but then again, I could do with a couple of opposable thumbs).
posted by porpoise at 9:41 PM on September 16, 2009


"And to hear the sun, what a thing to believe,
But it's all around if we could but perceive.
To know ultra-violet, infra-red, and x-rays,
Beauty to find in so may ways."


Moody Blues. "In Search of the Lost Chord"

Enhancements sound really exciting. But I'm afraid I'm old enough to be more interested in repairs, such as unblocking arteries. Or replacement parts, genetically correct. That's why I'm the first one to think of the "obvious" quote from the Moody Blues.
posted by Goofyy at 11:12 PM on September 16, 2009


there are people who implant small neodynium magnets into the tips of their fingers; they report that they can sense electrical current

I wonder how they handle MRIs.
posted by Bort at 11:12 PM on September 16, 2009


You can imagine conferring enhanced night vision in normal eyes

Sounds like someone is fishing for a military contract/research funds.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:23 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


My name is Andrew Ryan, and I'd like to ask you a question...
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:11 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


lumpenprole, I was born with red-green colorblindness, and while I'm curious ( and would like it to be easier to tell different resistors apart, or more abstractly, pilot an airplane) I don't really feel like I'm missing that much, but it sure sounds like you, as someone who has seen both ways, feel that I'm missing out. What am I missing out on?
posted by jrishel at 8:20 AM on September 17, 2009


You literally don't know what you're missing.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:11 AM on September 17, 2009


Changizi's argument against the food hypothesis is that, if trichromatic vision was linked, we'd see some relationship between diet and color depth. He argues we don't.

Plus, damn. Those response curves are pretty ridiculous. I had no idea M and L were so close. Explains the actual appearance of a rainbow quite well.
posted by effugas at 9:50 PM on September 17, 2009


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