Scientists uncover secrets of sight
Brain does most
of the work,
using sketchy
data from eyes,
researchers say
  Image: Simulation of vision
A computer simulation, created by David Balya from research information, shows seven of the dozen separate "movies" that the eye extracts from a scene and sends to the brain.

LONDON, March 28 -  Scientists may have come a step closer to the creation of a bionic eye, thanks to new research showing how the eye provides sketchy images that the brain interprets to create what we see.

       A BIONIC EYE using a computer microchip to restore sight is still a very long way off, but researchers at the University of California Berkeley have uncovered new secrets about how we see.
       "Even though we think we see the world so fully, what we are receiving is really just hints, edges in space and time," said Frank Werblin, a professor of molecular and cell biology.
       Werblin and his colleague Botond Roska discovered that the eye has about 10 to 12 output channels each carrying information to the brain which then constructs images.
       Writing in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature, they showed that the retina of the eye creates a stack of image representations that arise as the result of communication between layers of cells in the retina.
       Roska's father, Tamas Roska, and Leon Chua - who also work at the university - invented a computer microchip called the Cellular Neural Network that they say can be programmed to do visual processing just like the retina. They contend that the new chip could form the basis of a bionic eye.
       "The biology we are learning is going into improving the chip, which is getting more and more similar to the mammalian retina," Botond Roska said in a statement.
       But before a bionic eye can become a reality, scientists must discover how to connect the chip to the complicated circuitry in the brain.
       The researchers discovered the output channels by meticulously measuring signals from ganglion cells, the eye's output cells to the brain, in rabbits while flashing images of squares or circles in front of the animals.
       They found that groups of ganglion cells represented different visual features and sent the information to different paths in the brain.
       Hungarian software designer David Balya then used their findings on a computer model that mimics the ganglion cells in the retina.
       "We are now looking at the predictions the model makes when viewing natural scenes...and comparing them with what we measure in actual retinal cells, to learn how good the predictions are," said Roska.

Published version on MSNBC

The longer press release from Berkeley