Superpowers are real, and this woman is here to prove it. In this case, it’s supervision. A woman, referred to as cDa29 in the research paper, can do just that – she can see 99 million more colors than the rest of the population and that makes her one of the rare tetrachromats.
The average human eye perceives colors with the help of cells called cones. These cones are triggered by light and are responsible for deciphering its different wavelengths. There are three types of cones in total in most people.
Each cone can distinguish between around a hundred shades of color. By combining those shades with those perceived by the other cones, the color perception range of the average person is 1003 colors, or one million (in the least).
If one of the cones don’t function properly, the color vision range declines drastically, allowing the person to see around 10,000 colors. A person with three cones is called a trichromat, and with 2 cones – a dichromat.
However, researchers have long suspected that humans had the ability to develop a fourth cone, allowing them to see even more colors. This idea has led researchers from Newcastle University to search for people who possessed this supervision ability.
After decades of searching, Gabriele Jordan and her team have finally found such human. They found a tetrachromat woman who can distinguish almost a million colors more than the average person.
The idea of the existence of tetrachromats came when a Dutch scientist discovered that the mothers and daughters of color-blind men had an extra cone, which was inactive. This mutated cone was transferred to, or from, the color-blind man. In the case of men, it created a problem in the color range, the cone being less sensitive to either red or green.
In the case of women, the same cone did not replace one of the existing ones, but remained as a fourth cone, being in most cases inactive. This finding has led scientists to consider the existence of those women who could use that cone actively, thus allowing them to see more colors.
The following research conducted by scientists concluded that women perhaps didn’t use the fourth cone. However, Gabriele decided to try a different approach in her search of the supposed supervision.
Sitting in a dark room, the 25 women she took were to peer into a lab device which showed theme three colored circles of light. The circles contained subtle mixtures of red and green light that to a trichromat would all look the same. However, a tetrachromat would be able to distinguish between and spot the subtle differences.
One woman, under the code name cDa29, could spot the differences. She got every answer correct and this meant that Gabriele had finally found a tetrachromat. “I was jumping up and down,” she told the Discover magazine.
She can’t tell how it looks like to look through a tetrachromat’s eyes, just like a trichromat can’t explain a color-blind person what red looks like. “This private perception is what everybody is curious about,” said Jordan.
Her next challenge is to find what allows four-coned women to become functionally tetrachromatic. Jay Neitz, a vision researcher at the University of Washington, speculates that tetrachromacy could be triggered by those who possess four cones through practice.
As for us tetrachromats, we can only speculate, but never be able to even imagine the kaleidoscope of colors that tetrachromats are able to perceive. If you are a mother, or daughter, of a color-blind man, you should definitely consider the possibility that you are seeing more colors than the majority of the world population.