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

ble spectrum of colours.

The winter conditions in the arctic are very severe; the ground is covered in snow and the sun is very low on the horizon. At times the sun barely rises in the middle of the day, making it dark for most of the time. Under these conditions light is scattered such that the majority of light that reaches objects is blue or UV. In addition to this, snow can reflect up to 90% of the UV light that falls on it.

Professor Jeffery continued "When we used cameras that could pick up UV, we noticed that there are some very important things that absorb UV light and therefore appear black, contrasting strongly with the snow. This includes urine - a sign of predators or competitors; lichens - a major food source in winter; and fur, making predators such as wolves very easy to see despite being camouflaged to other animals that can't see UV."

This research raises some interesting questions about the effect of UV on eye health. It had always been assumed that human eyes don't let UV in because of the potential that it will cause damage, just as it does to our skin. In our eyes, UV could damage our sensitive photoreceptors that cannot be replaced. This would lead to irreversible damage to our vision. Arctic reindeer are able to let UV into their eyes and use the information effectively in their environment without suffering any consequences.

Professor Jeffery added "The question remains as to why the reindeer's eyes don't seem to be damaged by UV. Perhaps it's not as bad for eyes as we first thought? Or maybe they have a unique way of protecting themselves, which we could learn from and perhaps develop new strategies to prevent or treat the damage the UV can cause to humans."

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive, BBSRC said "We can learn a lot from studying the fundamental biology of animals and other organisms that live in extreme environments. Understanding their cell and molecular biology, neuroscience, and
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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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