January 22, 2009

Scientists Want To Test Galileo’s DNA For Eye Conditions

Scientists want to exhume the body of astronomer Galileo in hopes of proving theories that his observations were affected by an eye condition.

"If we succeed, thanks to DNA, in understanding how this disease distorted his sight, it could bring about important discoveries for the history of science," Paolo Galluzzi, director of Florence's Institute and Museum of the History of Science, told the London Telegraph.

"If we discover the pathology he suffered, we can formulate a mathematical model that simulates the effects it would have had on what he saw and using the same type of telescope he used we can get closer to what he actually saw," Galluzzi said.

"If we were able to see what he saw that would be extraordinary."

Researchers say Galileo's observations, although monumental, may have been even clearer if he hadn't suffered from intermittent eye problems.

"There were periods when he saw very well and periods when he did not see very well," said Dr. Peter Watson, president of the Academia Ophthalmologica Internationalis and consultant to Addenbrooke's University Hospital, Cambridge.

Based on Galileo's handwriting, letters and portraits, Watson believes the astronomer may have suffered from unilateral myopia, which is characterized by inflammation of the eye's middle layer, or creeping angle closure glaucoma.

Galluzzi believes Galileo's eye condition led him to the observation that Saturn had an irregular inflated side.

"This was probably a combination of errors. He probably expected to find satellites and his eyesight may have contributed to some confusion," said Galluzzi.

"A DNA test will allow us to determine to what measure the pathology of the eye may have 'tricked' him," he said.

Their research awaits approval from the Catholic Church to exhume the body.

The United Nations has proclaimed 2009 the International Year of Astronomy in tribute to the 400th anniversary of Galileo's observations.


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