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Genetic studies endow mice with new color vision

ls. Mice received a drop of soymilk as a reward when they correctly identified which panel differed from the other two. The genetically altered mice demonstrated their new visual ability by choosing the correct panel in 80 percent of the trials. By contrast, normal mice only chose correctly one third of the time, the score that one would obtain by guessing randomly among the three panels.

According to the scientists, their findings have implications not just for the evolution of color vision, but for the evolution of sensory systems in general. Previous experiments with the visual, olfactory (smell), and gustatory (taste) systems have suggested that introducing a new sensory receptor can expand the range of an animals sensory perception, altering both its behavior and nerve activity, Jacobs noted that the new study is the first to demonstrate that these simple genetic changes can have even more profound effects. By simply changing receptor proteins, not only can you extend the range of information that an animal might be able to sense, but if the nervous system has the plasticity weve seen in these mice, you can extract a new dimension of experience, he explained.

Our observation that the mouse brain can use this information to make spectral discriminations implies that alterations in receptor genes might be of immediate selective value not only because they expand the range or types of stimuli that can be detected but also because they permit a plastic nervous system to discriminate between new and existing stimuli, the authors wrote in the Science paper. Additional genetic changes that refine the downstream neural circuitry to more efficiently extract sensory information could then follow over many generations.


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Contact: Jennifer Michalowski
michalow@hhmi.org
301-215-8576
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
22-Mar-2007


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