Student researches own colorblindness

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Student researches own colorblindness

Tyee Arey, Staffer

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Senior Michael Zhan conducted multiple tests over the summer concerning his case of color blindness. Using professional laboratory equipment, he tested his genetics in search for the gene that the mutation resides on.

Color blindness is often confused with color vision deficiency (CVD), which is a condition where one doesn’t see a color as well as they see others. Real color blindness would mean seeing in grayscale.

“I am red-green colorblind,” Zhan said. “ I’ve thought pink or white items were blue, I couldn’t see an alligator’s red open mouth at the zoo, and I’ve mistaken many yellows for greens,

Color blindness is a fairly common ailment – it affects roughly 4.5% of the world’ population, with roughly 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women affected.”

Color blindness occurs due to changes in cells in the  eyes called cones, which are responsible for picking up color. There are three types of cones, each responsible for detecting different parts of visible light. The three cones, unofficially called blue, green and red cones pick up their respective colors.

There are three main types of color blindness and deficiency: red-green, blue-yellow and complete blindness. In each case, the deficiency is caused by a defect in at least one of the three types of cones. For example, red-green color blindness is caused by a defect in the red or the green cones, which would cause weaker detections of those two colors.

Men are more likely to be affected by red-green color blindness than women are due to the genetics behind color blindness. The genes controlling the red and green cones are located on the X chromosome, and mutations in these genes would ultimately cause red-green color blindness. Then, to be affected, women (XX) need two copies of the affected X chromosome, while men (XY) only need one. Because this deficiency is attached to the X chromosome, it is sex-linked. Through simple probability, this explains why men are more likely to be affected by color blindness than women are.

“It turns out that this mutation isn’t a point mutation, but rather a whole deletion of part of my genome that codes for the so called red cones,” Zhan said. “My parents first found out that I was colorblind at the supermarket. It was a chance occurrence: had they never invited me to try to scan the item, they may have never realized that I was colorblind.”

Currently, color blindness impacts some professions, as there are some jobs that discriminate against the colorblind based on the belief that normal color vision is required to do these jobs. For example, certain surgeons may need to be able to determine between red and brown colored tissue in surgeries. This discrimination may also affect those wanting to become pilots. In airports, pilots communicate with ground crew mainly through colored signals. As well as casino dealers who would need to handle millions of color-coded chips without error. Color blindness may play an impact on future career choices, but the impact it will depend on its severity. A person who is completely colorblind may not be able to pursue these professions, but one who is only slightly colorblind could still function normally in these jobs.

“My colorblind grandfather, who can clearly tell reds from greens, applied for an engineering job but was faced with a color-recognition test. He managed his way through the test, despite being colorblind,” Zhan said. “Although my grandfather was colorblind in a job that supposedly required normal color vision, he did fine and made many advancements in his career.”

Many of the obstacles that colorblind people may face are man-made, so if more of society recognizes the difficulty that some with color blindness have with color in daily life and their profession, we would be able to alleviate many of the troubles affecting the colorblind. Many offices and office-like workspaces use color-coded charts and diagrams to communication information. To accommodate colorblind employees, they should be made with high-contrast colors or symbols instead.

In the past few years, there have been many developments to help colorblind people distinguish colors more easily. These significant advancements include EnChroma glasses and special contact lenses, which both increase the wearer’s ability to distinguish between reds and greens. Certain computer programs and video games come with a colorblind mode, which allows for more distinguishable colors. On the other hand, gene therapy is a much more permanent, yet still experimental, solution to color blindness. Researchers at the Eye Institute at the University of Washington proved that this was possible on monkeys. They took a group of colorblind monkeys and showed them an image with a colored dot. The monkeys were trained to touch the dot if they could see it, so if they were colorblind then they could not find some of the dots. The researchers then edited the DNA in the monkeys’ eyes to fix their X chromosomes, essentially curing the monkeys of color blindness. When these treated monkeys were put through the test again, they found all of the dots with ease. Although gene therapy for color blindness is not yet available for human use, it has shown great potential in treating color blindness.

It is important awareness is raised for color blindness. It is not something that is easily visible from the outside, and it could provide a great hindrance to some people’s lives. However, many of these obstacles that colorblind people have are man-made, so society should work to accommodate those with color blindness.

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