Primates trade smell for sight

in pigments, called opsins, absorb various wavelengths of light, which the brain processes to produce full-color images. Apes and Old World monkeys carry three opsin genes, and most New World monkeys carry only two, though females can sometimes have three. Only howler monkeys routinely have three genes occurring in both sexes. Thus, full trichromatic vision evolved twice in primates--once in the common ancestor of apes and Old World monkeys, about 23 million years ago, and once in the howler monkey lineage, about 7 - 16 million years ago. The evolution of color vision, the authors propose, coincided with a growing complement of OR pseudogenes and a deterioration of the sense of smell. Gilad et al. suggest that investigating the types of visual cues required for finding food may shed light on the nature of this connection.


Contact: Hemai Parthasarathy
Public Library of Science

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