How the Mantis Shrimp’s Amazing Hexnocular, Polarized Vision Can Help Detect Cancer

The KQED and PBS Digital Studios series Deep Look explains how the extraordinary hexnocular, polarized vision of the rather intimidating mantis shrimp has proven very useful to scientists who are seeking a better way to detect cancer in its early stages.

But mantis shrimp can see a special kind of polarization, called circular polarization. Scientists have found that some mantis shrimp species use circular polarization to communicate with each other on a kind of secret visual channel for mating and territorial purposes. Inspired by the mantis shrimp’s superlative eyesight, a group of researchers is collaborating to build polarization cameras that would constitute a giant leap for early cancer detection. These cameras see otherwise invisible cancerous tissues by detecting their polarization signature, which is different between diseased and healthy tissues.