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Cone pigments in a North American marsupial, the opossum (Didelphis virginiana)


Only two of the four cone opsin gene families found in vertebrates are represented in contemporary eutherian and marsupial species. Recent genetic studies of two species of South American marsupial detected the presence of representatives from two of the classes of cone opsin genes and the structures of these genes predicted cone pigments with respective peaks in the ultraviolet and long-wavelength portions of the spectrum. The Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana), a profoundly nocturnal animal, is the only marsupial species found in North America. The prospects for cone-based vision in this species were examined through recordings of the electroretinogram (ERG), a commonly examined retinal response to photic stimulation. Recorded under flickering-light conditions that elicit signals from cone photoreceptors, the spectral sensitivity of the opossum eye is well accounted for by contributions from the presence of a single cone pigment having peak absorption at 561–562 nm. A series of additional experiments that employed various chromatic adaptation paradigms were conducted in a search for possible contributions from a second (short-wavelength sensitive) cone pigment. We found no evidence that such a mechanism contributes to the ERG in this marsupial.

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