Show Details

Armadillo Vision

November 18, 2013

The armadillo’s poor eyesight is helping researchers understand the genes behind certain forms of blindness.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

The upside of bad vision. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The nine-banded armadillo is helping researchers understand the genetics of blindness. (http://www.birdphotos.com)

Armadillos are nearly blind. They lack brain cells called cones, which are necessary for seeing well during the daytime.

CHRISTOPHER EMERLING (University of California, Riverside):

If you startle an armadillo, they’re just as likely to run into a tree as avoid it.

HIRSHON:

That’s UC, Riverside evolutionary biologist Christopher Emerling. He and his colleagues have discovered that the ancestors of armadillos developed a number of genetic eye mutations millions of years ago, when they lived deep underground to avoid predatory dinosaurs. He says the finding could help humans with similar eye disorders, which may be caused by the same cone cell mutations. For instance, if gene therapy improves vision in armadillos, it could then be tried in humans.

EMERLING:

So you might look at an armadillo, think, oh, that’s just Texas roadkill or something like this, but this organism might be actually be useful in helping to restore sight to some individuals.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.