Shrimp's eye points way to better DVDs

LONDON Sun Oct 25, 2009 2:07pm EDT

Mantis shrimps, dubbed ''thumb splitters'' by divers because of their vicious claws, have the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. CREDIT/Roy Caldwell

Mantis shrimps, dubbed ''thumb splitters'' by divers because of their vicious claws, have the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. CREDIT/Roy Caldwell

LONDON (Reuters) - The amazing eyes of a giant shrimp living on Australia's Great Barrier Reef could hold the key to developing a new type of super high-quality DVD player, British scientists said on Sunday.

Mantis shrimps, dubbed "thumb splitters" by divers because of their vicious claws, have the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom.

They can see in 12 primary colors, four times as many as humans, and can also detect different kinds of light polarization -- the direction of oscillation in light waves.

Now a team at the University of Bristol have shown how the shrimps do it, using remarkable light-sensitive cells that rotate the plane of polarization in light as it travels through the eye.

Manmade devices do a similar thing in DVD and CD players but they only work well for one color, while the shrimp's eye operates almost perfectly across the whole visible spectrum from near ultra-violet to infra-red.

Transferring the same multi-color ability into a DVD player would result in a machine capable of handling far more information than a conventional one.

"The mechanism we have found in this eye is unknown to human synthetic devices. It works much, much better than any attempts that we've made to construct a device," researcher Nicholas Roberts told Reuters.

He believes the "beautifully simple" eye system, comprising cell membranes rolled into tubes, could be mimicked in the lab using liquid crystals.

Details of the mantis shrimp research were published in the journal Nature Photonics.

Just why the mantis shrimp needs such a rarefied level of vision is unclear, although researchers suspect it is to do with food and sex.

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