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Mol Biol Evol. 2010 Feb;27(2):453-64. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msp262. Epub 2009 Oct 27.

An explicit signature of balancing selection for color-vision variation in new world monkeys.

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Department of Integrated Biosciences, The University of Tokyo, Kashiwa, Japan.


Color vision is an important characteristic of primates and, intriguingly, Neotropical monkeys are highly polymorphic for this trait. Recent field studies have challenged the conventional view that trichromatic color vision is more adaptive than dichromatic color vision. No study has investigated the pattern of genetic variation in the long to middle wavelength-sensitive (L-M or red-green) opsin gene as compared with that of other genomic regions (neutral references) in wild populations of New World monkeys to look for the signature of natural selection. Here, we report such a study conducted on spider monkeys and capuchin monkeys inhabiting Santa Rosa National Park, Costa Rica. The nucleotide sequence of the L-M opsin gene was more polymorphic than the sequences of the neutral references, although the opsin-gene sequences were not more divergent between the two species than were the sequences of the neutral references. In a coalescence simulation that took into account the observed nucleotide diversity of the neutral references, the Tajima's D value of the L-M opsin gene deviated significantly in a positive direction from the expected range. These results are the first to statistically demonstrate balancing selection acting on the polymorphic L-M opsin gene of New World monkeys. Taking the results of behavioral and genetic studies together, the balancing selection we detected may indicate that coexistence of different color-vision types in the same population, also characteristic of humans, is adaptive.

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