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Transgenic Mice Similar to Humans in Ability to See Colors

Adding human photopigment gene enables mice to see colors as primates do

THURSDAY, March 22 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have created transgenic mice that can see the same full range of colors as humans, instead of the limited palate of blues, grays and yellows typical of the species. The finding highlights the brain's plasticity when provided with new information from the human photopigment gene, according to a report published in the March 23 issue of Science.

Gerald Jacobs, Ph.D., of the University of California-Santa Barbara, and colleagues created transgenic mice in which an X-linked photopigment gene sensitive to middle wavelengths of light (about 510 nm), was replaced with a human cDNA for a photopigment responsive to long wavelengths of light (about 556 nm). Via random X inactivation, heterozygous females had trichromatic vision, similar to primates, as opposed to the bichromatic vision typical of rodents.

Behavioral testing indicated that, unlike normal mice and male mice, heterozygous female mice could identify and discriminate between longer wavelengths of light. For instance, heterozygous females could distinguish two light sources between 500 nm and 600 nm that differed by as little as 10 nm.

"An inherent plasticity in the mammalian visual system thus permits the emergence of a new dimension of sensory experience based solely on gene-driven changes in receptor organization," the authors write.

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