US scientists have studied colour vision by growing a retina in a petri dish.
The research, which is described in Science, sets the foundation for further work to explore potential therapies for colour blindness and macular degeneration.
Johns Hopkins University developmental biologist, Dr Robert Johnston, explained that the dish-grown retina looks like a normal developing eye.
“You have a model system that you can manipulate without studying humans directly,” he shared.
The research team observed cells in the retina that allow humans to see blue, red and green – the three cone photoreceptors.
They found that as the retina developed, the blue-detecting photoreceptors appeared first, followed by the red then green detecting cells. The thyroid hormone was a key element in the development of colour vision.
This discovery lends new insight to the higher incidence of vision disorders in pre-term babies, who have lowered thyroid levels because they lack a maternal supply.
In the future, researchers would like to use retinas grown in a lab to learn more about colour vision and the mechanisms involved in creating other regions of the retina, such as the macular.