Cone visual pigments in two marsupial species: the fat-tailed dunnart ( Sminthopsis crassicaudata ) and the honey possum ( Tarsipes rostratus ) Academic Article uri icon


  • Uniquely for non-primate mammals, three classes of cone photoreceptors have been previously identified by microspectrophotometry in two marsupial species: the polyprotodont fat-tailed dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata) and the diprotodont honey possum (Tarsipes rostratus). This report focuses on the genetic basis for these three pigments. Two cone pigments were amplified from retinal cDNA of both species and identified by phylogenetics as members of the short wavelength-sensitive 1 (SWS1) and long wavelength-sensitive (LWS) opsin classes. In vitro expression of the two sequences from the fat-tailed dunnart confirmed the peak absorbances at 363 nm in the UV for the SWS1 pigment and 533 nm for the LWS pigment. No additional expressed cone opsin sequences that could account for the middle wavelength cones could be amplified. However, amplification from the fat-tailed dunnart genomic DNA with RH1 (rod) opsin primer pairs identified two genes with identical coding regions but sequence differences in introns 2 and 3. Uniquely therefore for a mammal, the fat-tailed dunnart has two copies of an RH1 opsin gene. This raises the possibility that the middle wavelength cones express a rod rather than a cone pigment.


  • Cowing, Jill A
  • Arrese, Catherine A
  • Davies, Wayne L
  • Beazley, Lyn D
  • Hunt, David M

publication date

  • July 7, 2008