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How a Mantis Shrimp Can Actually See Cancer

“Humans can’t see this, but a mantis shrimp could walk up to it and hit it."

The mantis shrimp already stands out for its flamboyant colors and prominent, upstanding eyes. But these peepers are not merely decorative. They were recently found to do something that has scientists developing new technology to mimic some of their function.

The compound eyes of a mantis shrimp allows it to detect polarized light, which can help identify cancer. Scientists are developing a mantis shrimp-inspired camera. (Photo credit: Shutterstock) The compound eyes of a mantis shrimp allows it to detect polarized light, which can help identify cancer. Scientists are developing a mantis shrimp-inspired camera. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

According to research from the University of Queensland in Australia, the compound eyes of the mantis shrimp can detect cancerous tissue. How? They spot polarized light, which is reflected differently in cancerous tissue compared to healthy tissue.

“Humans can’t see this, but a mantis shrimp could walk up to it and hit it,” Justin Marshall with the university's Brain Institute said in a statement. "We see color with hues and shades, and objects that contrast – a red apple in a green tree for example – but our research is revealing a number of animals that use polarised light to detect and discriminate between objects."

Inspired by the abilities of the animal's eye, a team of international researchers are developing a camera that can identify cancer using a similar method. Some cameras already capitalize on the use of polarized light in cancer detection, but this camera, Marshall said, builds upon that in the hope that more non-invasive cancer-detection methods will be possible in the future.

“It converts the invisible messages into colors that our visual system is comfortable with," Marshall said.

In theory, he thinks the research could someday allow people to detect cancers in themselves, if such cameras with this ability were on everyday devices, such as smartphones.

“Nature has coming up with elegant and efficient design principles, so we are combining the mantis shrimp’s millions of years of evolution – nature’s engineering – with our relatively few years of work with the technology," Marshall added.

This study was published in the digital library IEEE.

(H/T: Science Alert via Reddit)

Front page image via Shutterstock.

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