Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Health

Forget the Goggles: Chlorophyll Eye Drops Give Night Vision

What the dragonfish discovered through evolution, the U.S. military wants to apply to the battlefield.

Chlorophyll Eye Drops Give Night Vision
Image: Dreamstime/Brightqube

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Seeing in the dark could soon be as easy as popping a pill or squeezing some drops into your eyes, thanks to some new science, an unusual deep-sea fish, and a plant pigment.

In the 1990s, marine biologist Ron Douglas of City University London discovered that, unlike other deep-sea fish, the dragonfish Malacosteus nigercan perceive red light. Douglas was surprised when he isolated the chemical responsible for absorbing red: It was chlorophyll. “That was weird,” he says. The fish had somehow co-opted chlorophyll, most likely from bacteria in their food, and turned it into a vision enhancer.

In 2004, Ilyas Washington, an ophthalmic scientist at Columbia University Medical Center, came across Douglas’s findings. Washington knew that the mechanisms involved in vision tend to be similar throughout the animal kingdom, so he wondered whether chlorophyll could also enhance the vision of other animals, including humans. His latest experiments in mice and rabbits suggest that administering chlorophyll to the eyes can double their ability to see in low light. The pigment absorbs hues of red light that are normally invisible in dim conditions. That information is then transmitted to the brain, allowing enhanced vision.

Washington is now developing ways to deliver chlorophyll to human eyes safely and easily, perhaps through drops. He believes that a night-vision drug would be most useful on the battlefield, so it is no surprise that the U.S. Department of Defense is funding his work. “The military would want this biological enhancement so they don’t have to carry nighttime goggles” during operations in the dark, he says.

    2 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 70%

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In