Do some nocturnal Malaysian mammals see in color?

Scientists generally accept that the ancestral mammal was nocturnal, and predicted that nocturnal mammals would have a retina containing only rod cells. Rod cells contain rhodopsin, a photo pigment that responds to low light levels. Surprisingly, studies determined that cone cells are present in the eyes of many nocturnal mammals. Scientists were further surprised to discover that many nocturnal mammals have two sets of photo pigment genes in addition to the rhodopsin found in rods. In other words many nocturnal mammals have the genetic capacity for dichromatic (or color) vision. This discovery has raised a number of questions, including “Do all the individuals within a population have the same complement of genes? Are there differences between populations? If there are differences between populations, can ecological hypotheses explain these differences?” Using DNA from both diurnal and nocturnal mammals collected from Malaysia, we will examine and compare the photo pigment genes between taxa.

Research methods and techniques:
REU Interns will receive training and participate in, DNA extraction, PCR, and sequencing in the Museum's core genetics facility, the Pritzker Laboratory and the DNA Discovery Center.  In addition, they will participate in data collection, assembly and analysis.

Curator/Advisors: Dr. Robert Martin, Anthropology/Biological Anthropology, in collaboration with graduate student Edna Davion (University of Chicago and Field Museum, Anthropology)