The mantis shrimp is a fascinating creature. One kind impales prey with a spear-like appendage and another smashes prey with a built-in club — the fastest attack in the animal kingdom. “At 30 times faster than the blink of an eye, the attack is so swift that it can vaporize nearby water molecules, producing bubbles where no bubbles should be.”
But that’s not the only incredible thing about them. We see with three receptors. The mantis shrimp’s compound eyes have 16 different photoreceptor cones, 12 for color sensitivity, and they can see polarized light.
From KQED’s Deep Look:
Inspired by the mantis shrimp’s superlative eyesight, the group of researchers is collaborating to build polarization cameras that would constitute a giant leap for early cancer detection.
“Looking at nature can help us design better and more sensitive imaging techniques,” Gruev said.
The cameras, which are small enough for endoscopic use, can see polarization patterns on the surfaces of human and animal tissue. At the cellular level, fast-growing cancer cells are disorganized compared to healthy cells like skin and muscle. Because of the structural differences, healthy and diseased tissues react differently to polarized light.
These signs show up early with cancer, before cues that typically alert doctors. Current colonoscopy techniques, for example, employ black and white images to look for abnormal shapes, such as polyps. But sometimes, cancerous tissue in the colon is flat, blending in with healthy tissue.
Related reading: A Mantis Shrimp Inspires a New Camera for Detecting Cancer.