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Genome Res. 1999 Jul;9(7):629-38.

The evolution of trichromatic color vision by opsin gene duplication in New World and Old World primates.

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Department of Molecular Genetics, Institute of Ophthalmology, University College London, London EC1V 9EL, UK.


Trichromacy in all Old World primates is dependent on separate X-linked MW and LW opsin genes that are organized into a head-to-tail tandem array flanked on the upstream side by a locus control region (LCR). The 5' regions of these two genes show homology for only the first 236 bp, although within this region, the differences are conserved in humans, chimpanzees, and two species of cercopithecoid monkeys. In contrast, most New World primates have only a single polymorphic X-linked opsin gene; all males are dichromats and trichromacy is achieved only in those females that possess a different form of this gene on each X chromosome. By sequencing the upstream region of this gene in a New World monkey, the marmoset, we have been able to demonstrate the presence of an LCR in an equivalent position to that in Old World primates. Moreover, the marmoset sequence shows extensive homology from the coding region to the LCR with the upstream sequence of the human LW gene, a distance of >3 kb, whereas homology with the human MW gene is again limited to the first 236 bp, indicating that the divergent MW sequence identifies the site of insertion of the duplicated gene. This is further supported by the presence of an incomplete Alu element on the upstream side of this insertion point in the MW gene of both humans and a cercopithecoid monkey, with additional Alu elements present further upstream. Therefore, these Alu elements may have been involved in the initial gene duplication and may also be responsible for the high frequency of gene loss and gene duplication within the opsin gene array. Full trichromacy is present in one species of New World monkey, the howler monkey, in which separate MW and LW genes are again present. In contrast to the separate genes in humans, however, the upstream sequences of the two howler genes show homology with the marmoset for at least 600 bp, which is well beyond the point of divergence of the human MW and LW genes, and each sequence is associated with a different LCR, indicating that the duplication in the howler monkey involved the entire upstream region. [The sequence data described in this paper have been submitted to GenBank under accession nos. AF155218, AF156715, and AF156716.].

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