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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Polymorphism of visual pigment genes in the muriqui (Primates, Atelidae)

  • Author(s): Talebi, M G
  • Pope, T R
  • Vogel, E R
  • Neitz, M
  • Dominy, N J
  • et al.

Colour vision varies within the family Atelidae (Primates, Platyrrhini), which consists of four genera with the following cladistic relationship: {Alouatta[Ateles (Lagothrix and Brachyteles)]}. Spider monkeys (Ateles) and woolly monkeys (Lagothrix) are characteristic of platyrrhine monkeys in possessing a colour vision polymorphism. The polymorphism results from allelic variation of the single-locus middle-to-long wavelength (M/L) cone opsin gene on the X-chromosome. The presence in the population of alleles coding for different M/L photopigments results in a variety of colour vision phenotypes. Such a polymorphism is absent in howling monkeys (Alouatta), which, alone among platyrrhines, acquired uniform trichromatic vision similar to that of Old World monkeys, apes, and humans through opsin gene duplication. Dietary and morphological similarities between howling monkeys and muriquis (Brachyteles) raise the possibility that the two genera share a similar form of colour vision, uniform trichromacy. Yet parsimony predicts that the colour vision of Brachyteles will resemble the polymorphism present in Lagothrix and Ateles. Here we test this assumption. We obtained DNA from the blood or faeces of 18 muriquis and sequenced exons 3 and 5 of the M/L opsin gene. Our results affirm the existence of a single M/L cone opsin gene in the genus Brachyteles. We detected three alleles with predicted lambda(max) values of 530, 550, and 562 nm. Two females were heterozygous and are thus predicted to have different types of M/L cone pigment. We discuss the implication of this result towards understanding the evolutionary ecology of trichromatic vision.

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