Discovery "may change understanding of sight"

Discovery "may change understanding of sight"

The whole perception of vision and how the eyes work may be changed by a breakthrough study by experts in the US, it has been claimed.

Specialists from Syracuse University (SU) have challenged the belief that light signals could not be initiated unless special light-receptor molecules in the retinal cells first changed their shape in a process called isomerisation.

For over 50 years, this theory has been accepted, but now a team from the university, in collaboration with researchers from Columbia University, has demonstrated that visual signals can be initiated in the absence of isomerisation.

Kenneth Foster, professor of physics in SU"s College of Arts and Sciences, said chromophores, which are the light-absorbing substances in retinal photoreceptor molecules, do not have to change shape in order to trigger the visual signal.

"The shape-change that results from isomerisation is actually the second step in the process. Historically, scientists have focused on isomerisation without realising there is an earlier and more crucial first step," he explained.

The research follows another breakthrough by experts at the Yale School of Medicine, who have found that the quality of a person"s eyesight is often decided long before they are born. 

by Emily Tait

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