In a nutshell: This review describes similarities between the visual system of the marmoset monkey and human, and discusses how this will lead to a better understanding of cognition and vision.

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The Big Picture:

Human evolution has driven the emergence of a sophisticated visual system, which we share with most other primates.

When it comes to non-primates, many have better eyes — for example, an eagle can see an ant on the ground from atop a 10-storey building. But it’s the “turbo-charged” visual brain that sets primates apart.

“It endows us with an unsurpassed capacity to see the world in sharp, colourful, three-dimensional detail,” says CIBF deputy director Marcello Rosa, who co-wrote this review.

And it is our visual brain that enables us to understand, differentiate, and remember objects in a complex and messy external world. This ability is key to characteristically human behaviours such as reading.

Our enhanced visual systems relies on certain brain structures, and patterns of connections, which, as this review describes, we share with the marmoset, a rat-sized monkey from South America.

Studying the visual system of the marmoset provides a more efficient way to gain insight into human cognition and health than the animals that are currently used. For example, marmosets reach adulthood much faster than other monkey species. Marmosets also have less varied brain anatomy, which makes it easier to study the visual system, and helps minimise the number of animals used.

Next steps:
Researchers are developing new-generation online atlases of the marmoset brain, incorporating information about anatomy, cellular connectivity, gene activity and electrophysiology.

Solomon, S. G., & Rosa, M. G. (2014). A simpler primate brain: the visual system of the marmoset monkey. Frontiers in Neural Circuits, 8 (96) pp. 1–24

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