October 1, 2014

The Rainbow Connection

The Scientist Magazine, October 1, 2014

Color vision as we know it resulted from one fortuitous genetic event after another.

 By Kerry Grens

In a steamy Eocene jungle, a newborn monkey opens its eyes for the first time. The world it sees is unlike any other known to its primate kin. A smear of red blood shines against a green nest of leaves. Unbeknownst to its mother, this baby is special, and its eyes will shape the human experience tens of millions of years in the future. Were it not for this little monkey and the series of genetic events that created it, we might not have the color vision we do: Monet’s palette would be flattened; the ripeness of a raspberry would be hidden among the leaves; traffic lights? They likely would never have been invented.

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This article was based on research by Dr. Melin and colleagues. 

  1. A.D. Melin et al., “Fig foraging by dichromatic and trichromatic Cebus capucinus in a tropical dry forest,” International Journal of Primatology, 30:753-75, 2009.
  2. A.D. Melin et al., “Food search through the eyes of a monkey: a functional substitution approach for assessing the ecology of primate color vision,” Vision Research, 86:87-96, 2013.

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