Vertebrate Evolution of Color Vision
Vertebrate animals were primitively tetrachromatic. They possessed four types of cones—long, mid, short wavelength cones, and ultraviolet sensitive cones. Today, fish, reptiles and birds are all tetrachromatic. Placental mammals lost both the mid and short wavelength cones. Thus, most mammals do not have complex color vision—they are dichromatic but they are sensitive to ultraviolet light, though they cannot see its colors. Human trichromatic color vision is a recent evolutionary novelty that first evolved in the common ancestor of the Old World Primates. Our trichromatic color vision evolved by duplication of the long wavelength sensitive opsin, found on the X chromosome. One of these copies evolved to be sensitive to green light and constitutes our mid wavelength opsin. At the same time, our short wavelength opsin evolved from the ultraviolet opsin of our vertebrate and mammalian ancestors.
Human red-green color blindness occurs because the two copies of the red and green opsin genes remain in close proximity on the X chromosome. Because of frequent recombination during meiosis, these gene pairs can get easily rearranged, creating versions of the genes that do not have distinct spectral sensitivities.
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