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Chlorophyll Eye Drops Turned This Biohacker Into Riddick

It looks like Vin Diesel might need a new party trick. Thanks to chlorophyll, a deep sea fish, and a team of independent biohackers, finding Necromongers in the dark might be as easy as putting in some eye drops.

Gabriel Licina and Jeffrey Tibbets of Science for the Masses, a DIY science coop dedicated to making science more available to the public, have been testing a concoction of chemicals that allows humans to see in the dark — and it works.

Image: Science for the Masses

Now before we get into the drops themselves, you may find yourself asking, “What is a biohacker?” It’s a good question.

“That word! Everybody loves that word,” laughs Licina, who has a degree in molecular biology. “It’s a very vague term that people use in a lot of different ways. There are people who call themselves biohackers who are eating a good diet and going to the gym. Then there are people who are looking at genetic modification (which is also cool). We’re doing neither of those things. What we’re essentially working on is human augmentation – that is, we’re looking at utilizing available technology in order to augment humans beyond what most people are capable of.” Yes, please.

The vision-enhancing ‘hack’ is a long time in the making. Back in the late ’90s, a team of scientists from the University of London discovered that the dragonfish (Malacosteus niger), a deep-sea devil spawn that looks suspiciously like Venom, uses chlorophyll, the green pigment that allows plants to photosynthesize, to see red light in the blackness of the deep ocean. The discovery quickly caught the attention of ophthalmic scientists at Columbia University Medical Center, whose work suggested that adding the pigment to human eyes could up-to double their ability to see in the dark as well.

“This was novel at the time,” says Tibbits, a trained nurse. “Based on the fish research, someone threw together the patent for a solution containing Chlorin e6 (Ce6), a chemical analog to chlorophyll. But they never really moved forward. Stuff in the past has pretty much exclusively revolved around applications for people that have pre-existing conditions like night blindness. We weren’t interested in any of that … we wanted to know what this compound would do to a normal person. So we ran with it!”

“This isn’t our recipe, we just whipped up a bunch of brownies … and we think they’re the coolest brownies ever,” adds Licina.

After five months of intense research, the team decided to go ahead with the test, with Licina as their guinea pig. As much as we’d love to say the dark color you see in the photos is the biochemical version of ‘eyeshine-chique,’ it’s actually just a protective lens.

Licina gets his eyeshine Image: Science of the MassesAccording to Licina, the solution just felt like a normal eye drop (or rather, half a bottle of eyedrops) going into his eye. “The speculum holding my eyes open was by far the worst part. Even the effects themselves were very subtle. It wasn’t like ‘Oh my god, I have predator vision!’ Nothing like that. You don’t get superpowers, this is a tweak … not an overhaul.” (Thanks for killing our dreams.)

“But then at some point, it morphed into ‘oh, there’s a guy over there … you can’t see him? This is cool.'”

The chemical actually works by binding to opsin proteins (photoreceptor molecules) in your retina, where it’s excited by light. “This causes a transformational process to occur in the protein segment, which sends a signal to the brain [that says, ‘hey, you see something’],” explains Tibbits.

He might not be ready to return home to Furya, but the Ce6 drops did allow Licina to pick out figures in the dark with 100% accuracy, where non-treated test subjects could only make out about 30 percent. And we’re talking 50 meters (over 160 feet) apart! The following morning, his eyes returned to normal with no apparent side effects.

Anyone can recreate this experiment at home, but before you decide to go googling, do your homework.

“One of the things that we try to make really clear to anyone we talk to is that we do our research. A lot of what we do is book work. We make sure we’re 100% on this stuff before we even consider fooling around with people. We know exactly why we’re using each chemical in the mix – and that has taken months of work. If you’re going to do it, we can’t stop you. The protocol is already there, just read the sources, and follow the god-damn protocol! And hey, let us know what happens, tell us about it. That information is valuable for moving the science forward.”

In the following stages of experimentation, both Tibbets and Licina hope to move past the subjective ‘What did it feel like?’ ‘What did you see?’ questions, and into the realm of hard data.

“That’s the core of good science,” says Tibbits. “We’re going to put the drops in and test how much electrical excitation comes from the eye, to look at not just how the test subject feels, but what the electrical signals from their eyes are telling us about the scale of how this works and what is happening.”

You can read the team’s full report, and check out their sources here.

IMAGE: One Race productions

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