Jay Neitz has cured colorblindness. At least he thinks he could cure colorblindness, if the FDA would let him operate on humans. What Neitz, a vision expert at the University of Washington, has done for sure is given monkeys the ability to see red.
Like most mammals, squirrel monkeys have only two types of cone cells in their eyes—blue and green—and can, therefore, only see those colors. But by doing some genetic kung fu, Neitz, along with his lab partner (and wife), the neuroscientist Maureen Neitz, was able to convert some of the monkeys’ green cones to red, giving them the same trichromatic vision that humans have.
Well, most humans. Squirrel monkeys in nature actually see things more or less the same way humans who are red-green colorblind do. “People that are red-green color blind have only 1 percent of the color vision a normal person has,” Neitz says, “which is a heck of a lot closer to having none than to what everyone else has.” Neitz believes his technique could give the estimated 10 percent of American men who are red-green colorblind the ability to see like the rest of us.
But even if color restoration surgery was to become as affordable and commonplace as, say, a laser eye procedure, Andrew Lavigne wouldn’t be interested. “[The color blindness] is part of what makes me, me,” says Lavigne, a New York-based graphic artist who is colorblind. “I don’t want to pay to chip away at my personality.” Color, for Lavigne, is not integral to the human experience. Sure, he grew up having to read the labels on crayons to make sure he was coloring with Fern and not Scarlet, and he still wears lots of black and gray so he doesn’t have to worry about making funny clothing choices, but it’s not like his world is somehow drained of meaning.