The disabilities experienced by colour-blind people show us the biological advantages of colour vision in detecting targets, in segregating the visual field and in identifying particular objects or states. Human dichromats have especial difficulty in detecting coloured fruit against dappled foliage that varies randomly in luminosity; it is suggested that yellow and orange tropical fruits have co-evolved with the trichromatic colour vision of Old World monkeys. It is argued that the colour vision of man and of the Old World monkeys depends on two subsystems that remain parallel and independent at early stages of the visual pathway. The primordial subsystem, which is shared with most mammals, depends on a comparison of the rates of quantum catch in the short- and middle-wave cones; this system exists almost exclusively for colour vision, although the chromatic signals carry with them a local sign that allows them to sustain several of the functions of spatiochromatic vision. The second subsystem arose from the phylogenetically recent duplication of a gene on the X-chromosome, and depends on a comparison of the rates of quantum catch in the long- and middle-wave receptors. At the early stages of the visual pathway, this chromatic information is carried by a channel that is also sensitive to spatial contrast. The New World monkeys have taken a different route to trichromacy: in species that are basically dichromatic, heterozygous females gain trichromacy as a result of X-chromosome inactivation, which ensures that different photopigments are expressed in two subsets of retinal photoreceptor.

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