Genetic Mutation Allows Artist to See 100 Times More Colors Than Everyone Else
Australian artist and art teacher Concetta Antico has the first confirmed case of tetrochromacy, a condition which allows her to see 100 million different colors, 100 times more than the average person.
Antico can see many more colors than most people as a result of a genetic mutation that causes her to have four cones (a type of receptor) in her eyes rather than the standard three. Until Antico's condition was confirmed, scientists weren't sure that tetrochromacy existed, as it is very difficult to test experimentally. "The difference between a tetrachromat and someone with normal vision is not as dramatic as the difference between someone who is colorblind and someone with normal vision," said Kimberly Jameson, a cognitive scientist at UC Irvine.
She described what she sees when she looks at a leaf: "Around the edge I'll see orange or red or purple in the shadow; you might see dark green but I'll see violet, turquoise, blue. It's like a mosaic of color."
Although it seems that her condition is rare, since she is the first confirmed case, researchers estimate that up to 1% of the population may be tetrochromats, but, unlike Antico, do not experience a wider variety of color. Tetrochromats' brains process color in the same way as the rest of the population, so the researchers hypothesize that her interest in impressionistic art from an early age may have "trained" her brain, or created the neural pathways necessary to see many different colors.
Studying Antico's condition may allow scientists to learn more about the perception of color in general, and potentially help those who are born colorblind. "If we understand genetic potential for tetrachromacy and how their perception differs, we can understand quite a lot about visual processing of color that we currently don't understand," said Jameson.
Antico's tetrochromacy also predictably enhances her appreciation of color as an artist. Although this is subjective, Jameson insists that Antico's art students have already been helped by her unique artistic perspective: "One of the things that has been made apparent by looking at their artwork is that they have a good appreciation for color, unlike any other individual who I've ever seen that is color deficient. It's very possible that by being tuned in from a very early age to color differences, [Antico] may have acquired some understanding and articulation for how to help them do that."