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The fine-tuning of human color perception

The evolution of in humans occurred by first switching from the ability to detect UV light to blue light (between 80-30 MYA) and then by adding green-sensitivity (between 45-30 MYA) to the preexisting red-sensitivity in the vertebrate ancestor. The detailed molecular and functional changes of the have been revealed by et al. and is published in the journal PLOS GENETICS.

The molecular basis of functional differentiation is a fundamental question in biology. To fully appreciate how these changes are generated, it is necessary to evaluate the relationship between genes and functions. This is a difficult task because new mutations can produce different functional changes when they occur with different preexisting mutations, causing complex non-additive interactions.

The blue-sensitive visual pigment in human evolved from the UV-sensitive pigment in the ancient Boreoeutherian ancestor by seven mutations. There are 5,040 possible evolutionary paths connecting them.The team examined experimentally the genetic composition and of the visual pigment at every evolutionary step of all 5,040 trajectories. They found that 4,008 trajectories are terminated prematurely by containing a dehydrated nonfunctional pigment. Eight most likely trajectories reveal that the blue-sensitivity evolved gradually almost exclusively by non-additive interactions among the seven mutations.

These analyses demonstrates that the historical sequence of change is critical to our understanding of and emphasizes that genetic engineering of ancestral molecules is the key to decode the complex interactions of mutations within a protein and their effects on functional change.


All works published in PLOS Genetics are open access, which means that everything is immediately and freely available.

Citation: Yokoyama S, Xing J, Liu Y, Faggionato D, Altun A, et al. (2014) Epistatic Adaptive Evolution of Human Color Vision. PLoS Genet 10(12): e1004884. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004884


Funding: The project is supported by National Institutes of Health (EY016400) and Emory University. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

PLOS Genetics