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The Eye

A Natural History

Simon Ings

Voles pee almost continually, and their urine reflects ultraviolet light. Even with superb vision, kestrels find it hard to spot drab voles against background. But luckily, kestrel vision extends well into the ultraviolet, so all they have to do is follow the arrows. Female marmosets have 3-colour vision sim to our own, whereas males have 2-colour, and they are better hunters.

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Cataracts cloud lens. Doctors have been removing lens since Roman times, and before plastic replacement lenses, patients cd see into the ultraviolet.

At a certain age humans deposit pure cholesterol in a white ring around cornea. Most vertebrates lay down bone, but mammals and crocodiles have lost sclerotic bones.

In 1997 British artist, Emma Kay, wrote out, in longhand, her own Bible. Did it completely from memory so only 7000 words long and not very accurate. The next year she did same thing with complete works of Shakespeare. Which raises the question of how we know something - is it bc we can remember it in detail, or bc we can find it when needed, or even just bc we know we can know it when necessary.

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Turns out that we store very little, or as little as possible, in the brain. We don't bother storing trivial info about our surroundings; we simply trust that it will be available when we need it - we'll just set our eyes searching.

Autism shows how much attention we pay to each other's eyes. A baby knows by the time it is 16 months old to check whether its mum is looking at her before pointing at something. Autistic children fail to check, and they often completely misunderstand the meaning of a pointing gesture altogether and focus on the pointing fingertip.

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Hereditary transmission of Daltonian colour blindness - cb fathers have colour normal daughters, who in turn have colour blind sons. Girls are rarely colour blind - can only happen if both parents are carrying c-b X chromosomes. (Men have an X and a Y chromosome, women have two X chromosomes.) A son inherits just one X chromosome, and it must come from his mother (because if he got it from his dad, baby would be XX a girl). Since one of the mother's X chromosomes carries the c-b gene, there is a 50% chance each boy will be c-b. Dalton's c-b was due to total absence of green cones - where they should have been were just more red cones. This is unusual - much more common to have green cones that don't work properly. The genes for red and green receptors are virtually identical and lie next to each other on the X chromosome. These genes seem prone to duplication and damage during mitosis. Although most people only have two - one for red and one for green, it is not uncommon to have as many as 9 genes there. For men that usually means most of one of the colours are defective, so red or green blindness. But a very few women end up with 4 colour vision - tetrachromats. They can see 10 separate colours in the rainbow instead of the 7 most of us see.

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