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Super dense carotenoid spectra resolved in single cone oil droplets


CONE visual receptors in reptiles and birds contain brilliant yellow, orange or red oil droplets, 3–6 µm in diameter, through which light must pass before reaching the visual pigment. The possible role of these brightly coloured organelles in colour vision has been disputed1–6. Their colours are thought to be caused by various carotenoids whose characteristically peaked absorption spectra in organic solvent extracts of whole retinas were first reported by Wald and Zussman7. In spite of this, subsequent workers have failed to identify the dramatic carotenoid spectra8 in individual oil droplets by direct methods of microspectrophotometry9–13. Instead, structureless cutoff absorbance curves reminiscent of commercial colour filters have been found to truncate at about one absorbance unit without any evidence of carotenoid spectral fine structure (Fig. 1).

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LIEBMAN, P., GRANDA, A. Super dense carotenoid spectra resolved in single cone oil droplets. Nature 253, 370–372 (1975).

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