Question Your World: What Causes Kids to Become Near Sighted? | Community Idea Stations

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Question Your World: What Causes Kids to Become Near Sighted?

Vision is a pretty important aspect of life for many creatures on Earth. For thousands of years we have been trying to better understand our own visions. Scientists are now looking into what causes some of us to develop our near sighted vision. Technology plays a big role in our life, but some of this technology is causing some big changes in our eyes, especially for our children’s developing eyes. A recent study helps answer today’s big question: What causes kids to become near sighted? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.

About 700 million years ago something remarkable happened here on Earth, life developed the earliest form of eyes. As these primitive creatures evolved, so did their eyes. Fast forward to now and we see a planet with many different types of incredible eyes. Evolution has created the pathways by which many creatures have developed their specialized eyes based on their own environmental needs. Some animals can see in ultraviolet, some have many sets of eyes, there are some with incredible night visions, and so on. Also included in this list of creatures with eyes would be us humans!

Humanity evolved with our eyes more or less as they are now, but that does not mean we are free from changes. As we developed a better understanding of who we were, we began to harness technology to help us accomplish our survival or life goals. Eventually our curiosity of the natural world and love for innovation would help create a myriad of technological advances including items that would impact our vision.

Over the span of innovation we humans have created things that enhance our vision, like glasses and telescopes. On the same note we have also created a few things that put strain on our eyes, like television and florescent bulbs. We’re all familiar with TV and screens can create problems for our vision, but why? A recently published paper sheds a little lights on this exact question.

Our artificially light world includes LED bulbs, TV screens, smart phone screens, decorative lights, and many other things that light up our world. These sources of artificial light tend to be have a higher red/green contrast. This particular part of the light spectrum actually impacts our eyes and their cellular ongoings. Frequent exposure to indoor lighting will force the eye to have to deal with this environmental factor and appears to be causing near sightedness to take place in a developing eye. The research was able to identify the reason why technology impacts our vision, turns out to be a specific type of cell in the retina.

These researchers are calling this newly identified cell the “ON Delay” cell. When exposed to more red/green contrast than our eyes have evolved to handle, it forces these cells to grow longer. Clusters of these cells found in the retina grow beyond their regular size and shape when put into this new environmental situation. While being outdoors has been a large part of the evolution in the eye, being indoors with Netflix going is a pretty new thing. Evolutionarily speaking, of course. The big news here is that this cell has been identified. Consider for a moment that nearly one billion people on Earth have myopic vision, better known as near sightedness. Now the next step would be to identify the genes responsible for allowing these cells to grow when put into a high red/green contrast light setting. Knowing this genetic information could lead scientists to understanding the mechanisms of these cells and could yield an option in which we could enhance or reduce the impact of this part of the light spectrum. In other words, knowing the genetic information would help scientists know how to induce or reduce near sightedness in a living animal.

Much more testing is needed, but simply knowing how this relationship between artificial light and our eyes’ cellular functions is a big step forward. In the meantime if you want to prevent the onset of myopia in your children or younger cohorts, scientists are encouraging them to simply spend more time in natural light and less time in our artificially illuminated lives. This could be a great way to reduce future generations of myopic conditions. Also, this could help prevent future generations of nerds!