University of Chicago Big Ideas Generator


Big Question: Comparative approaches to understanding color vision

University of Chicago Big Questions

Principal Investigator: Trevor Price, Ecology and Evolution

 Funding Type: Seed

Big Idea: Color is one of the more obvious sensory inputs to our daily lives. Over the past 150 years, application of genetic, physiological and behavioral techniques has led to major progress in understanding of how humans perceive color, but many gaps in our knowledge remain. Surprisingly little use has been made of comparisons among species. Birds, as the most color-oriented terrestrial group are excellent model system in which to apply comparative methods. We will study anatomical and physiological correlates of color processing in the retina of >50 bird species and relate that to each species visual inputs (e.g. color of conspecifics). Using fresh retinas, we will document cone cell distributions across the retina and construct opsin gene expression profiles, to study differences between species, sexes, and the right and left eye. We will use these data to expand on models from both the human psychophysical and animal literature to assess how and why color perception differs between species. This research will lead to a deeper understanding of why we see color in the way we do, and how color vision varies across individuals and species.

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