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Seeing Patterns

Photoreceptor cells in the retina actively align with the centre of the retina changing how light entering the eye is perceived

27 March 2022

Seeing Patterns

Humans see patterns everywhere: animals in cloud formations, faces in tree trunks, and Jesus on burned toast. Patterns are fundamental to the biology of how we see too. At the back of our eyes is a tissue called the retina, which detects light and converts it into neural impulses, giving us the power of sight. This process happens in photoreceptor cells: rods work in low light conditions and cones give the world its colour. New research in primates shows that cone cells actively align with the centre of the retina, changing how light entering the eye at different angles is perceived. The outer segment of each cone (stained red) absorbs light, the inner segment (blue) provides the cell's energy, and the calyceal process (green) rigidly aligns the two. The organised pattern of cone cells screens out light entering the pupil's edge, which can become distorted, thereby increasing the resolution of our eyes.

Written by Henry Stennett

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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