October 23, 2017

 

Oort Cloud Oddities: Squid Eye

 
 
 

Just in time for Valentine's Day, a team from Brown University has discovered that the human eye is gross. But it takes a married couple to make science downright nauseating.

A friend of mine, Corey Lohman, pointed out a news release from www.brown.edu. The article discussed how a team of researchers led by neuroscientist David Berson has figured out the function of a new cell found in the human eye. Basically, these cells tell the brain how much light is in the immediate area.

The article goes on to state, "Berson and his team made another intriguing finding: The biochemical cascade sparked by melanopsin is closer to that of eye cells in invertebrates like fruit flies and squid than in spined animals such as mice, monkeys or humans. 'The results may well tell us that this is an extremely ancient system in terms of evolution,' Berson said. 'We may have a bit of the invertebrate in our eyes.'"

"Look not to the mote in thine neighbor's eye, but to the bug in thine own!" I told my husband as I showed him the website. "This is very dangerous information. This melanopsin tells our brain how light or dark it is, which in turn helps to regulate our biological clock. Given the high cost of health care and the grueling pace of today's corporate world, how many people out there are going to use this information to try to devise a low-cost cure for jet lag?"

"You think?" John looked skeptical.

"Mark my words," I replied. "There is going to be an epidemic of people injured by staring into high-intensity flashlights at point blank range, hoping to fool the fruit-fly-like cells in their eyes into thinking that it's broad daylight. I'm guessing potential side effects will include horrible stabbing pain, blindness, an increase in health insurance premiums and the urge to buzz around old, flabby bananas. "

"Think of the cost to the health care system! Think of the lost man-hours! We need committees to assess the financial impact," John decided.

"We need parent groups to raise awareness in school-age children!" I agreed. "And we should probably look into banning melanopsin in public places, and demanding that restaurants have 'eyeball' and 'no eyeball' sections."

"Speaking of which," he changed the subject and leaned over my chair with his sexiest smile, "In this light, the biochemical cascade in your eyes really makes them look like they should belong to a fruit fly."

"Bug off," I pushed him away.

Later that day, I opened a cabinet and came across a scrap of paper stuffed in a coffee cup. I unfolded it to see Omar Khayyam's immortal love poetry, modified in the way only John could:

"A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou
Beside me glittering in the Wilderness-
Oh, Squid-Like are your Pair of Eyes, enow!"

"This is not appropriate Valentine's Day love poetry," I shouted into the other room where John was playing with our toddler.

"What, should I have included chocolate?" he asked. "By the way," he pointed to where our daughter had put a cardboard box over her head and was proceeding to bang on it with her shoe. "What did that study have to say about fruit-fly like brain cells?"

Later that evening, I found another note in my underwear drawer. This one contained an "improved" version of Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
I love thy melanopsic, bug-and-squid-like sight.
More primitive than the human race
Responding to the light of nights and days
Cascading both by sun and candlelight."

It also had a Hershey bar. I stuffed the candy bar in my mouth and wandered out to find John. "How did you ever manage to get dates when you were a bachelor?"

"I bribed them with food," he looked pointedly at the empty wrapper.

"Oh. Right. Well, it's still not working."

That night, I wandered into the bathroom to find John in front of the mirror, peering at something under his eyelid. "Is everything all right?" I asked.

"Oh, I'm glad you're here. Could you help me out?" As I leaned in to look, he added, "I think I have a bit of the invertebrate in my eye."

Giving up, I succumbed to his, uh, charm and sighed. "Just kiss me, you bug-eyed fool!"

Comments and scientific breakthroughs to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.

This article first appeared in the February 20, 2005 issue of the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.

Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-03-13


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