According to the research team, which included study senior author Tian Xue from the University of Science & Technology of China, and Gang Han from the University of Massachusetts' Medical School, the groundbreaking work may eventually lead to infrared vision among humans.
Researchers from the University of Science and Technology, China, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMass) in the USA, injected the rodents' eyes with a solution filled with nanoparticles.
The Chinese scientists behind the work said that it could pave the way for soldiers to be given "super vision" and help to treat forms of colour-blindness. Furthermore, they exhibit considerable potential with respect to the development of bio-integrated nanodevices in civilian encryption, security, military operations, and human-machine interfaces, which require NIR light image detection that goes beyond the normal functions of mammals, including human beings.
In the study the injectable particles bound to photreceptor cells known as rods and cones.
"When light enters the eye and hits the retina, the rods and cones-or photoreceptor cells-absorb the photons with visible light wavelengths and send corresponding electric signals to the brain", says Han.
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Infrared radiation (IR) wavelengths extend beyond those of visible light, making them generally invisible to the human eye. After the experiment, the rodents were able to see in the night for as long as 10 weeks with no significant side effects. But the nanoparticles capture the longer infrared wavelengths and emit shorter wavelengths that retinal cells can detect.
A Sino-U.S. joint research project has enhanced the vision of mice by using nanotechnology to make them see infrared light as well as visible light, which could lead to applications for humans to have an infrared vision in the future. But with the injection, they can perceive those signals when they're converted to visible light.
To test how well the nanoparticles worked, the researchers carried out a number of experiments to determine if the eyes of the mice were picking up infrared light. Because wavelengths that were too long had now been morphed into something more digestible, to the brain, it was as if the retina had been hit by visible light.
Mice that received the injections showed unconscious physical signs that they were detecting infrared light, such as their pupils constricting.
In rare cases, side effects from the injections such as cloudy corneas occurred but disappeared within less than a week.
"In our study, we have shown that both rods and cones bind these nanoparticles and were activated by the near-infrared light", said Xue. Human eyes have a retinal structure called the fovea, which has a much higher density of cones than rods, while mice have more rods than cones.