Evolutionary Diversification of Visual Opsin Genes in Fish and Primates

  • Shoji Kawamura
Part of the Primatology Monographs book series (PrimMono)


Among vertebrates, fish and primates are highly polymorphic in their color vision. This diversity likely reflects the variability in light environments inhabited by these species. Gene duplications and allelic differentiation of opsin genes play an important role in the evolution of color vision in fish and primates. Studies have shown that gene duplications of opsins have occurred repeatedly during fish evolution, often accompanied by differentiation of spectral sensitivity and ­spatiotemporal expression patterns in the retina, which possibly enabled different color sensitivities between upward and downward vision. Interestingly, a similar regulatory mechanism for the expression of duplicated opsin genes, in which a single regulatory region controls the array of duplicated opsin genes, has evolved independently in fish and primates. However, this regulatory mechanism has resulted in different consequences for fish and primates: different sights by visual angles in fish and trichromatic color vision in primates. New World monkeys have the single-copy but multiallelic M/LWS opsin gene and hence exhibit an extensive intraspecific polymorphism of color vision. Behavioral observations of New World monkeys in the wild have revealed surprising findings, including that dichromatic monkeys perform better catching camouflaged insects than their trichromatic group mates and that these dichromats can be as good as trichromats when foraging for fruits. Interdisciplinary studies that emphasize a study of genes and behaviors will continue to uncover surprising variations of color vision and promote our understanding of the adaptive significance of color vision in evolution.


Color Vision Spectral Type World Monkey Visual Pigment Opsin Gene 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I thank the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research A 19207018 and 22247036) and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan (Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Priority Areas “Comparative Genomics” 20017008 and “Cellular Sensor” 21026007) for funding.


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© Springer 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Integrated BiosciencesGraduate School of Frontier Sciences, The University of TokyoKashiwaJapan

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