Our growing knowledge of our world continues to show us that things aren’t always what they seem. Let’s take colour, for example. According to the dailymail, most humans can see 10 million colours. Amazing, isn’t it? Get this: according to sciencealert.com, a slight change in eye structure lets tetrachromat cDa29 see up to “99 million colors more than the rest of us“.
Color Clues: Tetrachromats
What’s a tetrachromat and how do we become one? It must be amazing to see that many more colors! Unfortunately, this is genetic, and not even all those with four types of cones can access this gift. Most people are trichromats instead.
Bees, on the other hand, can see ultraviolet colors that humans aren’t able to perceive. Contrary to what it may seem, roses aren’t actually red and violets aren’t actually purple. They appear that way thanks to the special nature of light, the absorption/reflection abilities of the objects we see, and the way our eyes are composed. Light travels in wavelengths which at some point shine onto objects (or landscapes).
These objects absorb some of the waves and reflect others. The reflected waves flow to the eyes, which are now responsible for making sense of the information. According to pantone.com, in order to make sense of the incoming waves, our retina has “millions of light-sensitive cells“, some of which are “shaped like cones“. These cones process the light coming in and send the information to our brains so it can “interpret and name colors“.
According to pantone.com, humans have six million cones in each eye. As mentioned before, most humans have three types of cones; one which processes short wavelengths of light, another which processes those of medium length, and the third which processes those of long length. Tetrachromes have an additional fourth type, which explains why they can process more hues and colors.
Lady cDa29 is a British doctor who successfully showed tetrachromatic behaviour in Dr. Garbiele Jordan’s study. A research article by Dr. Jordan and her partners speaks of how colorblindness can relate to tetrachromacy. Drawing on Dutch scientist HL de Vries insights from 1948, the mother or daughter of a colour blind man is a “candidate for tetrachromacy”. About 12% of women fall into this category.
Most women tested did not show activity happening through all four cones, but cDa29 did! Now researchers are looking for more women who show tetrachromatic behaviour. They also seek to understand why the 4 cones function fully for some women over others.
One theory by Jay Neitz, a vision researcher at the University of Washington, is that our world is so filled with colours familiar to the trichromatic viewer that tetrachromats don’t get enough practice spotting their unique colour ranges. The question does arise on whether it should matter as much to their abilities considering there is still natural colour in nature.
Tetrachromatic Artist : Concetta Antico
Another tetrachromat leveraging her tetrachromatic abilities is the Australian artist Concetta Antico. She uses her special abilities to paint detailed paintings, in which the colours she sees, others may not be able to see. As learning-mind.com also agrees, her commitment to painting has exposed her to many colors, and may have increased her unique ability. In this way, she may also have had that experience of colours that Jay Neitz suggests as needed.
Interestingly, according to Concetta’s website, it was Dr. Jay Neitz who discovered Concetta’s tetrachromacy! This shows that despite tetrachromats being rare, we are finding more tetrachromats! Concetta’s daughter is colour blind, which also reflects the connection between tetrachromacy and colour blindness the dutch scientist HL de Vries considered. Hopefully, as time goes by, we find out more about tetrachromats and their unique ability!