Genetic mutation gives this "tetrachromat" artist superhuman color vision (video)

Concetta Antico
© Concetta Antico

Colours give life to our world. The dizzying array of hues, shades and even the fluorescent vibrancies of bioluminescence give us clues about the grander scheme of nature -- relationships, patterns and characteristics that we need to know. We know that humans can see quite a range of colours, however, some people have a rare condition called tetrachromacy, where there are four types of cone cells in the eyes instead of three, thanks to a mutation in the X chromosome. These extra cone cells mean that the person or organism can see many more colours than usual.

Though tetrachromacy is found in some fish and bird species, one human example exhibiting this rare condition is San Diego-based artist Concetta Antico. According to Oddity Central, while most humans can only see around 1 million colours -- using three types of cone-shaped photoreceptor cells in the eyes -- tetrachromats like Antico can potentially see up to 100 million colours.

Concetta Antico© Concetta Antico

Antico relates how this "super vision" affects her:

The grocery store can be overwhelming. And malls too, with all those pieces and colors under fluorescent lighting. [But] I feel so lucky. Just the other day I saw a sunset that literally took my breath away – peaches and blushes against the sky blue. And eucalyptus leaves – I love. Gray-olives, magentas, emerald green, sage green. Nature is so incredibly beautiful. What I have is a genetic hiccup, if you will. But it’s also such a gift.

Concetta Antico© Concetta Antico

Antico, who also teaches and owns a local gallery, only recently found out that she was blessed with this gift in 2012, after a neurologist student suggested that she take a genetic test for tetrachromacy. As an art teacher, her students were puzzled by her "bizarre" choice of colours, and she grew up mistakenly thinking that everyone could see the bursts of colours she saw everywhere, even in shadows and rocks, where she could see "emerald greens, magentas, lilacs, [and] blues.” For Antico, it was a relief to find out that her special abilities could be attributed to a genetic mutation; the flip-side of which would be colour-blindness.

Concetta Antico© Concetta Antico

Antico's vibrant artworks give us a rare insight into what being a tetrachromat feels and looks like. It's interesting that Antico states in the video above that it's only in the natural world that she can see these "mosaics of colours" -- but not in manmade or artificial things. Essentially, nature's "colours speak to [her]," and she says that our modern lifestyle is diminishing everyone's inborn ability to appreciate and communicate in colours:

Everyone has the potential to expand their ability to see colors the way I do, but our urban lifestyles and focus on technology is shutting it off. I’m the one here waving the color flag, teaching people to see the turquoise and greens in the grey rocks and even tap into their own interpretations of the colors that exist.

It makes us wonder, what else are we missing when we take something so "simple" as nature's colours for granted? More over at Concetta Antico's website, Oddity Central and BBC.

Tags: Artists | Arts | Nature Blows My Mind | San Diego


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