Plug and play integration of a new sensory channel in evolution – experiment and theory

Björn Kampa - RWTH Aachen University
Stefan Rotter - University of Freiburg

Most mammalian species including mice have dichromatic cone vision. Trichromatic color vision has presumably emerged in evolution by first integrating an additional opsin with deviating spectral sensitivity into the retina. Then the downstream networks were adjusted to process new and hitherto unseen inputs. But which exact steps were actually necessary to integrate a whole new information channel into the existing circuits of visual information processing? An answer to this question is of immediate concern for understanding functional adaptations of the nervous system during evolution. Here, we will study this question by characterizing transgenic mice with trichromatic vision, and analyze the physiology of color vision in animals, side-by-side with a neuronal network model of primary visual cortex exposed to suitable chromatic input from an artificial retina. Our joint experimental-theoretical approach will allow us to generate new insight how trichromatic color vision might have emerged in evolution from dichromatic progenitors. Further, we hope that this particular example will also allow us to draw more general conclusions about the evolution of sensory perception and computation.