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PLoS Biol. 2004 Jan;2(1):E5. Epub 2004 Jan 20.

Loss of olfactory receptor genes coincides with the acquisition of full trichromatic vision in primates.

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Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany.

Erratum in

  • PLoS Biol. 2007 Jun;5(6):e148. Wiebe, Victor [removed]; Paabo, Svante [removed].


Olfactory receptor (OR) genes constitute the molecular basis for the sense of smell and are encoded by the largest gene family in mammalian genomes. Previous studies suggested that the proportion of pseudogenes in the OR gene family is significantly larger in humans than in other apes and significantly larger in apes than in the mouse. To investigate the process of degeneration of the olfactory repertoire in primates, we estimated the proportion of OR pseudogenes in 19 primate species by surveying randomly chosen subsets of 100 OR genes from each species. We find that apes, Old World monkeys and one New World monkey, the howler monkey, have a significantly higher proportion of OR pseudogenes than do other New World monkeys or the lemur (a prosimian). Strikingly, the howler monkey is also the only New World monkey to possess full trichromatic vision, along with Old World monkeys and apes. Our findings suggest that the deterioration of the olfactory repertoire occurred concomitant with the acquisition of full trichromatic color vision in primates.

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Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no conflicts of interest exist.

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