Molecular genetic basis of adaptive selection: examples from color vision in vertebrates

Annu Rev Genet. 1997;31:315-36. doi: 10.1146/annurev.genet.31.1.315.


A central unanswered question in phototransduction is how photosensitive molecules, visual pigments, regulate their absorption spectra. In nature, there exist various types of visual pigments that are adapted to diverse photic environments. To elucidate the molecular mechanisms involved in the adaptive selection of these pigments, we have to identify amino acid changes of pigments that are potentially important in changing the wavelength of maximal absorption (lambda max) and then determine the effects of these mutations on the shift in lambda max. The desired mutants can be constructed using site-directed mutagenesis, expressed in tissue culture cells, and the functional effect of virtually any such mutant can be rigorously determined. The availability of these cell/molecular methods makes vision an ideal model system in studying adaptive mechanisms at the molecular level. The identification of potentially important amino acid changes using evolutionary biological means is an indispensable step in elucidating the molecular mechanisms that underlie the spectral tuning of visual pigments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Animals
  • Color Perception / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Retinal Pigments / genetics*
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Vertebrates


  • Retinal Pigments