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Are you colorblind? November 9, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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1 comment so far

Silence Dogood here. When I was in college, my favorite pair of shoes was an elegant pair of green suede high heels. I loved them, but one of my most ardent suitors hated them. He was colorblind, and described the color he saw when he looked at my beautiful high heels as a sickening yellow-grey. With his trademark irony, he always referred to them as “the emerald slippers.”

I’ve always remembered this, so I was intrigued to see an article in last Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal called “New Outlook on Colorblindness.” Most people know that men are more likely to be colorblind than women, and that colorblindness typically strikes as an inability to distinguish red and green. But the WSJ article had a lot more to say about colorblindness (read it at www.wsj.com.).

The article splits colorblindness into four categories, which it described as green blindness, in which greens and reds both look greenish-grey; red blindness, in which not only are greens and reds difficult to distinguish, but reds appear dark and purples look blue; blue-yellow blindness, when yellows look white, purples look red, and blues are dimmed; and achromatopsia, which is a lack of all color perception, meaning that people with the condition only see black, white and shades of grey, as if their lives were played out in black-and-white TV. Mercifully, only .005% of the population suffers from achromatopsia, but 8% of the male population has green, red, or blue-yellow colorblindness (opposed to .5% of women). Are you one of them?

If so, there’s hope for full recovery, thanks to genetic science. I’d always assumed that colorblindness was an aesthetic thing, as in my friend’s inability to appreciate my green suede shoes. But it turns out that it inhibits people who suffer from colorblindness from working in careers that rely on color identifiers, such as air traffic controllers, the police force, pilots, and even video game developers.

Genetics to the rescue! In 2009, at the University of Washington, vision scientist Jay Neitz and colleagues were able to insert a corrective gene via a virus into the retinas of red-green colorblind squirrel monkeys. The monkeys regained the ability to see colors correctly, and have retained it to this day. So if you have colorblindness, head to Google and monitor the UW site, contact Professor Neitz, and hope that what worked for the monkeys will soon be available to you.

              ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

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