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Reindeer see a weird and wonderful world of ultraviolet light
Date:5/25/2011

Researchers have discovered that the ultraviolet (UV) light that causes the temporary but painful condition of snow blindness in humans is life-saving for reindeer in the arctic.

A BBSRC-funded team at UCL has published a paper today (12 May) in the Journal of Experimental Biology that shows that this remarkable visual ability is part of the reindeer's unique adaptation to the extreme arctic environment where they live. It allows them to take in live-saving information in conditions where normal mammalian vision would make them vulnerable to starvation, predators and territorial conflict. It also raises the question of how reindeer protect their eyes from being damaged by UV, which is thought to be harmful to human vision.

Lead researcher Professor Glen Jeffery said "We discovered that reindeer can not only see ultraviolet light but they can also make sense of the image to find food and stay safe. Humans and almost all other mammals could never do this as our lenses just don't let UV through into the eye.

"In conditions where there is a lot of UV when surrounded by snow, for example it can be damaging to our eyes. In the process of blocking UV light from reaching the retina, our cornea and lens absorb its damaging energy and can be temporarily burned. The front of the eye becomes cloudy and so we call this snow blindness. Although this is normally reversible and plays a vital role to protect our sensitive retinas from potential damage, it is very painful."

Human beings are able to see light with wavelengths ranging from around 700nm, which corresponds to the colour red, right through all the colours of the rainbow in sequence to 400nm, which corresponds to violet. Professor Jeffery and his team tested the reindeer's vision to see what wavelengths they could see and found that they can handle wavelengths down to around 350-320nm, which is termed ultraviolet, or UV, because it exceeds the extreme of the so-called visi
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Contact: Nancy Mendoza
press.office@bbsrc.ac.uk
44-179-341-3355
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Source:Eurekalert

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