Thursday, March 22, 2007

Genetic Engineering Color Vision in Mice   posted by Fly @ 3/22/2007 06:20:00 PM

Genetic studies endow mice with new color vision

Although mice, like most mammals, typically view the world with a limited color palette - similar to what some people with red-green color blindness see - scientists have now transformed their vision by introducing a single human gene into a mouse chromosome. The human gene codes for a light sensor that mice do not normally possess, and its insertion allowed the mice to distinguish colors as never before.

In a study published in the March 23, 2007, issue of the journal Science, Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers at Johns Hopkins, together with researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara, demonstrated in a series of cleverly designed color vision tests that the genetic modification allows mice to see and distinguish among a broader spectrum of light waves. The experiments were designed to determine whether the brains of the genetically altered mice could efficiently process sensory information from the new photoreceptors in their eyes. Among mammals, this more complex type of color vision has only been observed in primates, and therefore the brains of mice did not need to evolve to make these discriminations.

The new abilities of the genetically engineered mice indicate that the mammalian brain possesses a flexibility that permits a nearly instantaneous upgrade in the complexity of color vision, say the study's senior authors, Gerald Jacobs and Jeremy Nathans.
"Our observation that the mouse brain can use this information to make spectral discriminations implies that alterations in receptor genes might be of immediate selective value not only because they expand the range or types of stimuli that can be detected but also because they permit a plastic nervous system to discriminate between new and existing stimuli," the authors wrote in the Science paper. "Additional genetic changes that refine the downstream neural circuitry to more efficiently extract sensory information could then follow over many generations."

I'm surprised that the mouse brain visual system is sufficiently plastic that the altered mice gained significant color differentiation ability.

Update: Carl Zimmer on Mouse Color Vision