Remember when Mom said she had eyes in the back of her head?
She might not be speaking metaphorically.
Scientists at Tufts University have found a way to develop cells into eyes. In a discovery reminiscent of Frankenstein (the movie, not the book), researchers figured out that if they give cells the right electric jump-start, they’ll grow into fully developed eyes. And not just that—these eyes can grow anywhere on the body.
You could have eyes in your hands, like the terrifying pale man from Pan’s Labyrinth.
You could have eyes on the insides of your elbows. You could blink by performing a bicep curl.
Yes, you could even have eyes on your ass. Though I’m not really sure why you’d want to.
While this particular discovery may seem a bit strange and not altogether practical, the implications extend far beyond growing eyeballs on random body parts. The experiment proves that cells change and grow not only in response to chemical or molecular factors, but also to physical ones, such as electricity.
Nerve and muscle cells in particular generate something called a “membrane potential” when there are a different number of ions inside versus outside of the cell. Cells control the flow of ions, which then generates an electrical charge. We’re talking millivolts here, but it’s enough to affect the way cells move and develop.
Researchers devised the experiment after observing the membrane potentials of cells in a fertilized frog egg. They noticed that the spots where the membrane potentials dropped roughly 20 millivolts were precisely where the tadpole’s eyes formed.
Then, because they wanted to prove that electrical impulses could initiate eye growth, they did something we’ve all dreamed of doing—they replicated the 20-millivolt drop by altering the flow of ions in cells on various parts of the tadpoles’ bodies. Every spot they did this grew eyes.
I bet those are some crazy looking tadpoles!
I wonder whether the tadpoles reached frog stage. And if they did, what they looked like. They’d probably be pretty sweet at catching flies. They’d also look amazing in sunglasses.
I’m also thinking about how disgusting, but also awesome, it would be to do this experiment on one of those fish with the huge googly eyes.
Even more important than bringing out the freaky side of nature is that this discovery opens all kinds of doors in the field of organ and limb regeneration. Electrical stimulation of cells in a damaged organ or an amputated limb could induce regrowth.
Pretty soon, we’ll be like starfish.
And if it doesn’t work, there’s always mind-controlled prosthetics.