It took 20 years of hunting, but a dedicated scientist has found her Holy Grail: A woman who can see 99 million more colours than the average human being. While she can’t see through walls or turn her eyes into a heat ray, the unidentified woman is a ‘tetrachromat’, with the ability to see much greater colour depth than almost everyone else in the world.
Vision is one of the most complicated of the senses, and how the eyes perceive colour is broken down by ocular cells called cones. Most people have three types of cones, and are described as being ‘trichromatic’. Individuals who are colour blind have only two types of cones, making them dichromatic.
Dr Gabriele Jordan, a researcher at the Institute of Neuroscience has spent the last 20 years on a mission to find someone with superhuman sight. Discover magazine reported that while Dr Jordan and her team found several tetrachromats, only one could pass her test, which included showing three coloured circles with a difference that no one but a true tetrachromat could detect. That woman, who has only been identified as subject cDa29, is a doctor living in northern England – but others may be out there.
She told the magazine: ‘We now know tetrachromacy exists. But we don’t know what allows someone to become functionally tetrachromatic, when most four-coned women aren’t.’
And why not men? Research on colour blindness dating back to 1948 found the condition appeared to run in families, but didn’t affect women. Dutch scientist HL de Vries, who wrote the paper, suggested that females recognised colour differently, thanks to that fourth cone.
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