'Grinder' biohacks his eyeballs to get night vision

Members of a biohacking site experiment with a chlorophyll-like substance to try to see better at night. The instructions are online.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
3 min read

Gabriel Licina has a solution of Chlorin e6, insulin and saline applied to his eyeballs. Science for the Masses

Remember the black oil that used to swim around peoples' eyeballs in " The X-Files"? If you don't, you're kind of lucky. But if you do, would you agree to let a biohacker squirt an inky black substance into your eyes as your eyelids were held open with a speculum? Me neither. But how about if the procedure promised to give you night vision?

That inducement was strong enough for "grinder" Gabriel Licina of the biohacking site Science for the Masses to undergo a procedure in which a chlorophyll-like substance called Chlorin e6 (Ce6) was squirted onto his eyeballs. Grinders are people willing to alter their bodies through various means in an effort to improve how they function. That doesn't guarantee it's safe, but it's certainly interesting.

Here's how the procedure went according to a paper Licina and his Science for the Masses co-founder Jeffrey Tibbetts posted on their site:

"For the application, the subject rested supine and his eyes were flushed with saline to remove any micro-debris or contaminants that might be present. Eyes were pinned open with a small speculum to remove the potential for blinking, which may force excess liquid out before it had a chance to absorb. Ce6 solution was added to the conjunctival sac via micropippette at 3 doses of 50μl into each eye. After each application, pressure was applied to the canthus to stop liquid from moving from the eye to the nasal region. Each dose was allowed to absorb between reloading the pippette, with the black color disappearing after only a few seconds."

For those who don't remember their biochem: a micropipette is a superfine eyedropper; the canthus is the spot where the upper and lower eyelids meet in each corner of the eye; and μl is a microleter, or 1/1,000,000 of a liter.

The goal was to see if the application of Ce6 would grant Licina night vision. The team hypothesized that it would, in part because of a patent that was filed to use the substance to treat patients with night blindness and improve night vision.

So how did it work out for Licina?

Licina had black contact lenses put in after the drops to ensure that the light in the room wouldn't be too harsh. Science for the Masses

After waiting 2 hours, he was asked to identify the markings on a range of items with different numbers, letters and shapes on them in a darkened area from a distance of 10 meters (about 32 feet). He was also taken outside (presumably at night) and asked to use a laser pointer to identify people hiding in a grove of trees.

According to the researchers, Licina was able to see symbols not visible to a control tester. He was also able to pick out all the people in the woods -- from a distance of 25-50 meters (about 82-164 feet) -- whereas those who hadn't had their eyes treated only spotted one-third of them.

The next day, they said, Licina's eyesight returned to normal, and 20 days after the experiment there "have been no noticeable effects."

Licina and Tibbetts agree that their work was subjective and that more testing will need to be done, but they say that grinding has scientific value.

"Citizen scientists and 'DIY biologists' are under no pressure to reach or hold a position of tenure and often do not have the need to produce for monetary reasons," they say in their paper. "It is possible that this will allow for less bias in publishing and a more open release of work due to the lack of external motivators."

So, how about you? Would you squirt some black goo in your eyes to be able to see at night?

(Via Mic)