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Friday, March 23rd 2007

Not Too Complex?

Is a single, or just a few genes, all that endow humans with color vision? A single human gene put into a mouse species greatly expands their perception of color.

Although mice, like most mammals, typically view the world with a limited color palette—similar to what some people with red-green color blindness see—scientists have now transformed their vision by introducing a single human gene into a mouse chromosome. The human gene codes for a light sensor that mice do not normally possess, and its insertion allowed the mice to distinguish colors as never before.

“What we are looking at in these mice is the same evolutionary event that happened in one of the distant ancestors of all primates and that led ultimately to the trichromatic color vision that we now enjoy,” said Nathans.

Most mammals, including mice, are dichromats, possessing only S and M cone pigments. As a consequence, they can distinguish only a fraction of the wavelengths that can be distinguished by humans. John Mollon at the University of Cambridge has suggested that the evolution of trichromacy could have permitted primates to discriminate between unripe fruit, which is typically green, and ripe red- and orange-colored fruits. Reciprocally, the colors of ripened fruits may have coevolved with primate trichromacy, since animals that could recognize and eat the ripe fruit would have assisted plants by spreading their seeds.

If not with immediately obvious uses, pretty cool insight into human evolution.

H/T Reddit