One laboratory in the University of Wisconsin-Madison is getting a great deal of press in the eye care community. This lab, called the Comparative Ocular Pathology Laboratory of Wisconsin (COPLOW), currently has the largest collection of mammal eyes in the world.
Well, at least that's what the lab's founder, Dick Dubielzig, likes to claim. Although he hasn't contacted the Guinness Book of World Records yet, he also hasn't heard of any other lab with more eye specimens than COPLOW.
So, just how many eyeballs are in this famed lab? There are now around 56,000 eye specimens from a wide array of mammals. The most common eye samples come from cats, dogs, and horses. There are, however, 6,000 eye specimens from more exotic species.
One exotic pair of peepers comes from the okapi, which is distantly related to the giraffe. The Bronx Zoo sent over these grey golf ball-sized eyes hoping the scientists could discover why the okapi went blind.
Whenever an eye comes into the lab, workers first take high-quality photos of the eyeballs and then put them in paraffin wax. If the eyes are "globes," which means they are full eyeballs, then the lab technicians put them in a blue container and line them against the other stacks of eyes by the wall. On the other hand, if the donations are only a thin sheet of eye tissue, researchers preserve the tissue in a microscope slide.
In case you were wondering, there is one human eye in this lab. The only human eye in the lab's collection comes from none other than Dubielzig.
Ever since Dubielzig was a young boy, he suffered poor vision in one of his eyes. After a routine eye exam, an ophthalmologist told Dubielzig that this bad eye had a serious disease and needed to be removed. In the spirit of scientific endeavor, Dubielzig decided to donate his eye to the laboratory for further testing.
One prominent professor that has been singing the praises of the Comparative Ocular Pathology Laboratory is none other than Ivan Schwab. In case you haven't heard, Schwab is an ophthalmologist and best-selling author at the University of California, Davis. Schwab's most famous work is the book Evolution's Witness: How Eyes Evolved.
Schwab used the Wisconsin lab's extensive collection of eyes to further his research into the evolution of the eyeball. He told reporters that this lab is the "Taj Mahal of ocular specimens."
Although the Wisconsin lab's collection is extensive, there are a few eyes Dubielzig would still like to have. Dubielzig really wants the eye from a giant squid, which is the largest eye on any living animal. A few other eyes he wants include the eye of an echidna (a kind of anteater) and the eye of a large whale.
Researchers at this lab receive approximately 20 eye packages every day. About two-thirds of the eyes they receive are the full globes. Anyone interested in sending eyes to the Comparative Ocular Pathology Laboratory of Wisconsin can check out a submission form on their official website.