Tetrachromat: Identifying 99 Million More Colors

Most people have never heard of a tetrachromat, a superhuman with the ability to see 99 million more colors than the average person, and it only took 20 years to find her.

Dr. Gabriele Jordan, a researcher at the Institute of Neuroscience has spent the last 20 years on a mission to find someone with superhuman sight.

The Daily Mail reports that vision is one of the most complicated of the senses, and how the eyes perceive color is broken down by ocular cells called cones. Most people have three types of cones and are described as being ‘trichromatic’. Individuals who are color blind have only two types of cones, making them dichromatic.

Discover magazine reported that while Dr. Jordan and her team found several tetrachromats, only one could pass her test, which included showing three colored circles with a difference that no one but a true tetrachromat could detect.

That woman, who has only been identified as subject cDa29, is a doctor living in northern England – but others may be out there.

Dr. Jordan told Discover that the findings had her jumping up and down. But with their tetrachromat comes a conundrum: How is one woman’s vision so advanced when others with the same four cones were not?

“We now know tetrachromacy exists. But we don’t know what allows someone to become functionally tetrachromatic when most four-coned women aren’t,” she told the magazine.

And why not men? Research on color blindness dating back to 1948 found the condition appeared to run in families but didn’t affect women.

Dutch scientist HL de Vries, who wrote the paper, suggested that females recognized color differently, thanks to that fourth cone.