Animals may be camouflaged by a coloration that matches their surroundings or by a combination of color and shape. Some species make themselves conspicuous and rely upon bold and bright coloration as a means of warning off their potential predators. Population biologists have accumulated information on the adaptive significance of coloration for a large number of species. To elucidate the mechanisms underpinning such natural selection events, it is necessary to understand the visual systems of interacting organisms.

Molecular genetic analyses on the human opsin genes by Nathans and his colleagues made it possible to characterize the opsin genes of various vertebrates. A striking level of diversity in the opsin gene sequences reflects adaptive responses of various species to different environments. Comparative analyses of opsins reveal that gene duplications and accumulation of mutations have been important in achieving that diversity. The analyses also identify amino acid changes that are potentially important in controlling wavelength absorption by the photosensitive molecules, the visual pigments. These hypotheses can now be rigorously tested using tissue culture cells. Thanks to the molecular characterization of the opsin genes, it is now possible to study the types of opsins associated with certain environmental conditions. Such surveys will provide important first molecular clues to how animals adapt to their environments with respect to their coloration and behavior.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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