Human Engineering: Augmenting Human Sight Into the Infrared Range?

Bioethics   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Dec 16, 2013   |   7:03PM   |   Washington, DC

Most of society is under the impression that human augmentation is something that our grandchildren will have to deal with. Stuff for T.V. and big screens. I have been screaming from the rooftops that this is something we need to discuss now because it is happening now.

Case in point, this crowd-funded project that is looking into augmenting human vision so that we can see in the near infrared range. Infrared light is light that has a longer wavelength than red light and so is not in the range that we call “visible light.”

Their goal is to use dietary restrictions and supplements to increase porphyropsin in the human eye. It is porphyropsin that would allow the eye to see wavelengths longer than the visual range. The website asks “Can we biologically extend the range of human vision into the near infrared?” and explains how they plan to proceed:

We have developed a protocol to augment human sight to see into the near infrared range through human formation of porphyropsin, the protein complex which grants infrared vision to freshwater fish.

Retinal, or Vitamin A (A1), which is found bound to opsin proteins is a keystone of the visual pathway. The cone cells are granted sharp color vision by the complex photopsin. The rod cells which provide us with night vision and recognition of movement do so utilizing rhodopsin. Both of the complexes consist of a type of protein bound to retinal. Porphyropsin differs from this in that it doesn’t use retinal, but rather a derivation called 3,4-dehydroretinol, or Vitamin A2 (A2).

The human body is fully capable of metabolizing and using A2; unfortunately the proteins which allow for transport through cell membranes have nearly 4 times the affinity for A1 compared to A2. We theorize that this can be overcome through a stringent Vitamin A1 restricted diet, supplemented with Vitamin A2.

So this study is simply using diet to try and augment human sight. Sounds harmless enough, but there may be a good reason that our cells have four times the affinity for vitamin A over vitamin A2.



Also, these researchers are clear that this is only one step. They want to go further:

We are also hoping to use this study as a proof of concept to continue working on a more long term modification to human vision that doesn’t rely on dietary restrictions / supplementation.

Long-term modification that is not diet based. I wonder what they have in mind?

The important thing here is to understand that human augmentation for the otherwise healthy is already being attempted. This project was fully funded meaning that the public is interested in enhancements. This is not something we can all ignore and pretend is not happening. Today it is simple dietary changes. Tomorrow it will be something much more invasive.