In the realm of biomedical imaging, researchers from Washington University in St. Louis are taking cues from an amazing set of eyes found in nature. Far from the instinctual candidates for impressive eyesight, like cats or birds of prey, this pair belongs to a creature under the sea: the mantis shrimp.
The mantis shrimp is neither a mantis nor a shrimp: it’s only named that way because it resembles a cross between the two. It actually belongs to a group of crustaceans known as stomatopods, which live in shallow, tropical waters near the Equator. The Great Barrier Reef is a particularly appealing habitat for mantis shrimp, as they like to spend much of their time burrowed in coral or coves. Despite their secluded personalities, they are aggressive hunters that are known to stab and/or smash prey with their claws.
In fact, the claw of the mantis shrimp was the subject of a military study earlier this year. It fascinated scientists because it was extremely hard but not brittle. That study resulted in the development of a new type of armor that is proving to hold up to multiple types of bullet fire. (To read more about that study, and watch a mantis shrimp smash in a clam with its claw, have a look at this article.)
Now, the mantis shrimp is being studied for its fantastic eyes. To put things into perspective, the human eye has three different color receptors (red, green and blue) and gains the power of depth perception when there are two of them together. Each eye of the mantis shrimp has depth perception of its own, can move independently, and has twelve unique color receptors.
While this amount of color receptors might seem redundant, think of the brightly lit, shallow waters in which the mantis shrimp lives. Many marine creatures utilize camouflage to blend in with the sand and coral. Some have shiny scales, which reflect the sun’s light to dazzle predators. To combat this, the eyes of the mantis shrimp have a polarizing effect, which works like sunglasses to make this bright light visible. As anyone who has worn sunglasses can attest, polarization lessens the ability to detect color. So to make up for this deficiency, the mantis shrimp simply uses more color receptors to see even the best-hidden fish while being protected from undersea glare.
The research team, led by Washington University professor Viktor Gruev, is studying this stomatopod in order to learn how it processes the massive amount of optical information it receives. After research into how the eye works, Gruev and his lab will construct an imaging system based on the mantis shrimp’s eye. He comments on the project in a Washington University article:
“The mantis shrimp are very small creatures, but they have very sophisticated image processing…We want to know if we can mimic these sensors or design them to create a specialized camera that has multiple applications.”
These “multiple applications” include distinguishing healthy from malignant cells in biomedical engineering, and improving military aircraft vision in poor weather conditions. The latter purpose has prompted the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to support the project with a $3.5 million grant. For more funding information and a detailed funding report on Washington University at St. Louis, click the button below:
Fascinating projects like that of the mantis shrimp put Washington University above the fold when it comes to life science research. Next spring, on May 23, 2013, Biotechnology Calendar Inc. will be hosting its St. Louis BioResearch Product Faire™ event on the Washington University Campus. Biotechnology Calendar has been bringing life science research trade shows to top universities nationwide for twenty years now. To reserve an exhibit space at this upcoming show, click the button below. Otherwise, please look at our full 2013 show schedule, which can be found here.