When we saw the recent study by Atsushi Ogura of the Naghama institute of Bio-science and Technology, which showed that a specific RNA gene – Pax 6 – is the key to the separate, but distinctly similar evolution of the camera eye in Squid and humans, we couldn’t help ourselves from asking whether we could help visually challenged cephalopods swimming in our oceans.
Both squid and human eyes are comprised of the same parts, a lens, retina and a liquid interior. Separate genes control the ‘building’ of these unique elements of the eye, but it is the Pax 6 gene, known as the master control gene, that has been found to construct the eye. This is how the eyes two remarkably different animals, whose evolutionary paths split a massive 500 million years ago, bare such remarkable similarity.
Squid, like humans, rely heavily on their eyes, using them for hunting and just about everything else they do. So, if we did come across a myopic, presbyotic or astigmatic squid, could human laser eye surgery fix him or her up and get them back to the ocean with 20/20 vision?
Firstly, we face a major practical problems helping our squid chum. Dr Romesh Angunawela of Moorfields Eye Hospital explains, “Colossal squid have eyes the size of football. Their corneas would be like saucers, this would make treating a squid under the laser difficult as such a large eye would require multiple treatments to achieve a large enough optical zone to give them perfect vision” though, he adds, “The fly-spot laser technology we now use would have a lot of area to cover to achieve this”.
With this in mind, is there any hope for a species with smaller eyes such a Humboldt squid? Sadly it would seem not, as Consultant Opthalmic Surgeon Allon Barsam points out, “Unfortunately despite many similarities in genetics and embryogenesis squids do not have a cornea. Therefore Laser eye surgery is not an option”. Despite this fundamental flaw to our plan, Allon does suggest an alternative for these squinting cephalopods, “They do have a lens so when they get older cataract surgery with a premium lens may be their best bet of not needing glasses”.