What is a Tetrachromat?


The science of vision is complex and our understanding of how we “see,” interpret and process our environment conveyed by visible light is evolving. The scientific study of visual perception spans many scientific disciplines: genetics and molecular biology, neuroscience, psychology and cognitive science.

Scientists have been able to map and identify the physical components contributing to sight and the pathways of the visual system in the brains of humans and animals, but they are still exploring the interaction between genes and the outcome or expression of those genes as they relate to visual perception.

Infrequently, an individual may have a specific gene mutation that ultimately provides a genetic potential for the expression of four distinct classes of retinal photopigments, whereas most people have three retinal photopigments. Individuals who have four retinal photopigments are said to have the genes or genetic basis for retinal tetrachromacy (tetra = four, chroma = color). Concetta is such an individual whose genetic analysis in late 2012 demonstrated a genetic sequence consistent with the specific gene mutation permitting the expression for four retinal photopigments.

While the science of how the nervous system translates and processes the signaling and information derived from these four retinal photopigments is under intense debate, we do know, and see from Concetta’s paintings as well as from early perceptual investigations she has undergone, that she has exceptional color processing compared to normal controls. Further study into her color perception and processing is the topic of on-going and intense research.

Latest Scientific Research from Dr. Kimberly Jameson from University of California’s Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences ~ Concetta is Subject CA

This article uses multispectral techniques to investigate color processing in two individuals possessing photopigment genotypes allowing potential human tetrachromacy. In our investigations we measure spectral reflectances from empirically reproduced color sensations of potential tetrachromat observers, and investigate color processing basis functions underlying the observed set of tetrachromat spectra. Our investigations provide new empirical and quantitative methods for estimating trichromat individual’s personalized spectral sensitivities, and, as shown in one poten- tial tetrachromat examined, permit estimation of cone response sensitivities for cases that may not conform to the kind of stan- dard dimensional solutions typically associated with trichromat models. Read the full article.


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An Update on the Latest Scientific Research on Concetta’s Color Perception

Dr., Kimberly Jameson, University of California’s Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences, continue to pursue assessment of Concetta Antico as a research participant of great interest.


New research results in which Concetta Antico has been involved as a research participant, bear on issues relating to individual differences in color processing. Dr. Jameson recently presented new findings in a research colloquium to the faculty at Institute of Mathematical Behavioral Sciences at UC Irvine, and receiving positive support for the new findings, and will be presenting again at the Munsell2018.org conference (see attached abstract). Jameson’s new results are the most recent in a several years effort by which she has learned much new information about the ways expert observers differ in color processing from, for example, a standard normal observer. The issue of individual variation in color perception, and how it relates to what is know about a standard normal form of color processing, is, of course, something that is central to the study of comparative color perception and artistic processing of visual scenes, and is of great interest to the art collector and enthusiast community. Dr. Jameson believes that her team of researchers and the collaborative work they have engaged in with Concetta Antico, presents an exciting opportunity for extending impact on developing approaches for personalized data displays and color space models. Dr. Jameson’s research team have a very solid and productive collaborative relationship with Concetta Antico — who has voluntarily participated in our research investigations for several years now. Additional findings on Antico’s tetrachromatic processing potential are expected in Fall 2018


The Genes for Color Vision

The DNA of every normal-vision human observer includes inherited “opsin genes” which produce the visual pigments responsible for human color vision. Some of these visual pigments – for example, those sensitive to longer-wavelength and medium-wavelength light from the visible electromagnetic spectrum – arise from genetic sequences on the X-chromosome and are inherited in a recessive manner, while others that are sensitive to short-wavelengths of light are inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern via chromosome 7.Three human “photo”-pigment classes are typically involved in “photopic”, or daylight, processing of visual stimuli. In a normal retina, these photopigments reside within light-sensing “cone” cells that populate a retinal mosaic that includes “Long-wavelength sensitive”, “Medium-wavelength sensitive”, and “Short-wavelength sensitive” cone cell classes, (abbreviated “L-” “M-”, and “S-cones”).During the normal process of opsin gene inheritance and development, changes in the “usual” opsin gene sequences can occur. For example, mutations, deletions, and rearrangements of the genes that encode human L- and M- opsins can result in deficiencies in red-green color discrimination for some individuals. Not all mutations are bad, however, and some opsin gene sequence changes can modify the response properties of L- and M-cone cells while having no deleterious consequences for the perceptual processing of environmental color stimuli.Infrequently an individual may have specific opsin gene mutations that ultimately provide a genetic potential for the expression of four distinct classes of retinal photopigments. Such individuals can be said to have the genes, or the genetic basis, for retinal tetrachromacy.


What exactly are the genes, and what is the genetic basis, for retinal tetrachromacy?

While the length of the L- and M-opsin genes may seem great (~14,000 base pairs and ~12,030 base pairs, respectively), it is perhaps surprising that L- and M-opsin gene sequences differ by only15 loci along their protein coding gene sequences.This is especially interesting from a perceptual standpoint since those 15 coding sequence changes alone are responsible for a ~30 nanometer (nm) shift in cone sensitivity that is characteristic of an L-cone class “red” signal peak compared to that of an M-cone “green” signal peak. Interestingly, the majority of this 30nm difference in peak sensitivities between the normal red and green visual pigments is accounted for by differences in the genetic sequence at positions 180, 277, and 285.Indeed (and this is important for understanding potential tetrachromacy), the most influential of these three sequence positions involves single-nucleotide substitutions (or SNPs) at codon 180 of Exon 3. That is, at codon 180 a photopigment encoded from an Alanine allele has a maximal absorption that is shifted approximately 5nm towards the shorter wavelengths compared to the absorption peak of the “normal” form of the L-cone pigment encoded by a Serine variant (Merbs & Nathans, 1992, Asenjo et al., 1994).The frequency of opsin gene variations differs across the general human population, but it is estimated that in some groups L-cone pigment genes encode Serine 56% of the time and encode Alanine 44% of the time at position 180 (Gegenfurtner & Sharpe, 1999). The stable frequency with which the L-opsin codon 180 mutation is present in humans may suggest it is not likely a deleterious mutation of the opsin gene sequence.An individual possessing an L-opsin codon 180 tetrachromat genotype is special in that they possess opsin genes that encode both Serine and Alanine variants of the L-cone photopigment.

Further details on L-opsin codon 180 SNPs can be found at: Jameson, K. A. (2009). Human Potential for Tetrachromacy. Glimpse: The Art + Science of Seeing, 2.3, 82-91. And, http://www.glimpsejournal.com/2.3-KAJ.html.

Concetta Antico has the genetic basis for retinal tetrachromacy

In late 2012 Concetta Antico was evaluated both genetically and, to a lesser degree, behaviorally by Jay Neitz, Ph.D., Bishop Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Washington. According to his genetic analyses (see Figure 1), Dr. Neitz suggests that Concetta’s “…L-opsin gene sequence shows an Exon 3 codon 180 polymorphism in the nucleotide sequence “KCT” at position 231, 232, 233 on the portion of her L-opsin gene electropherogram” (personal communication, May 28, 2014).

Figure 1. An excerpt of Concetta Antico’s L-opsin genetic sequence analysis shown as an electropherogram image. This image shows the computer generated output of automated sequencing. The curved peaks represent the intensity of the nucleotides (ddNTPs) observed in the DNA. The alphabet characters printed across the top of the peaks represent the observed gene sequence for the region. A central red arrow has been added to highlight a region of interest at position 180 on Exon 3 where the serine and alanine polymorphism is present on this L-opsin gene. Close examination of the curves under the red arrow shows two equally intense nucleotide traces present – a black curve traced over by an almost equal strength red curve. These represent high quality mixed bases as indicated by the magenta tagged signal over the highlighted “K” in the alpha-character sequence. This sequence is a product of DNA analyses conducted in the laboratory of Prof. Jay Neitz (Ophthalmology, University of Washington Medical School) during the November/December 2012 (personal correspondence dated 12/19/2012).

Proof of Tetrachromat Retinas?

Because of the complexity of genetic expression mechanisms, individuals with a genetic potential for tetrachromacy are often described as “putative retinal tetrachromats”. This is because presently there are no established methods to verify whether an individual with a “tetrachromat genotype” actually possesses normal, sufficient, populations of four distinct classes of cone photopigments expressed in their retinas. Adaptive Optics Scanning Laser Ophthalmoscopy technology (AOSLO) has in the last decade made huge advances towards in vivo imaging and analyses of the L-, M- and S-cone classes of the living human retinal mosaic, however, at present AO technology does not permit in vivo differentiation of the two, highly similar, variants of L-cone cell populations that retinal tetrachromats are presumed to possess.Despite current technology’s inability to confirm the presence of highly similar cone classes in a living retina, the scientific consensus, based on models of genetic expression mechanisms, is that otherwise normal color vision female individuals who genetically possess the L-opsin Exon 3, codon 180 polymorphism are thought to have a retinal mosaic with four functioning classes of cone photopigments. How the neural signals of these four classes of cones are processed by the brain remains the subject of debate.For now, at least, the proof of tetrachromat visual processing hinges on demonstrating what perceptual consequences may arise from having a retinal mosaic with four functioning classes of cone photopigments.Perceptual investigations of Concetta’s color processing features, and quantification of the manner in which it varies from the color processing of normal control observers, is a topic of on-going intense research interest.

For further details about color vision genetics and phenotypic expression of tetrachromacy, and its empirical demonstration can be found at: Glimpse Journal

Cited Materials

Asenjo, A.B.; Rim, J.; Oprian, D.D. (1994). Molecular determinants of human red/green color discrimination. Neuron, 12, 1131-1138.

Gegenfurtner, K.R. and L.T. Sharpe (1999). Editors. Color Vision: From Genes to Perception. Cambridge University Press.

Merbs, S.L. & Nathans, J. (1992). Absorption spectra of human cone pigments. Nature, 356, 433-435.

Neitz, J. (2014). Ophthalmology, University of Washington Medical School. NeitzVision.com


This work is licensed to Concetta Antico under Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial-NoDerivatives Works 4.0 International License. June 13, 2014.

Antico, C. (2014). Scientific details of Concetta Antico’s genetic potential for tetrachromatic color vision.

What is a Tetrachromat Artist?

The Tetrachromat Artist functions at a master artist level. They have been discovered and confirmed to have the genotype for Tetrachromacy – possessing four color receptors in the eyes – and with this gift they are able to define dramatically more color than the average human vision.

It is important to note that they should have spent their life pursing art and pursuing the exploration of color. Tetrachromacy is a developed genotype, much like people born with a genotype for superior muscle building fiber, or any other gift. Tetrachromacy must be developed. If those born with superior muscle fiber, never took up a sport or became athletes then they may never learn of their super human trait. Such as with Tetrachromacy. It must be used, developed. If those born with the fourth receptor gene never pursued a life and career filled with color, such as fine art, then they would have missed the chance to develop their skill to its maximum potential.

In the case of a Tetrachromat Artist, the physical process should be extraordinary when in production, the final result equally extraordinary. The way they resolve varieties in color is amplified. They are able to produce images onto canvas in a fraction of the time it would take a similarly seasoned artist. This ability to swiftly and visually isolate and define particularities of colors in a split-second is a super vision trait. Tetrachromat Artists are able to resolve and create colors from their carefully selected and color matched palates in an instant; similar to the way a computer algorithm behaves. Why even the selection of the manufactured color tubes of paint to use for a subject is a tetrachromat gift. As a result, paint application is markedly fast, deft and color filled and fluid brush strokes. Additionally accurate value (shade of color) identification allows for realistic, albeit, Impressionistic results in moments. Large canvases are filled in brief periods with ease and accuracy. The juxtaposition of color and use of color filled lights and shadows, often complementary in color use, create a 3D affect that is said to vibrate or “move” on the canvas.

How are others in the “Tetrachromatism” genre defined?

First of all, anyone in the art genre Tetrachromatism should have been defined as having the genotype for Tetrachromacy. They should have had a lifelong immersion with color and value to be able to fully exercise and perfect the skills needed to express their gift of color resolve. The genre may more frequently will be expressed by fine artists, more likely in the oil paint medium as it is possesses the greatest range of color in the paint family and is the most fluid and slow drying allowing for a greater ability to meld creating subtle nuances of color.

The painting process would typically be performed in the alla prima or direct method to allow for greater speed of application. The Tetrachromat Artist’s nearly mechanical abilities will remove the need for any type of color corrections, touch-ups or other modifications to the work once the paint has been placed. This too is a rare trait for an artist. One and done – no reworking. Pointedly, this is what makes Tetrachromatism so astonishing. The work is primarily completed with a single application. One attempt with perfect maximum color and value selection. As a Tetrachromat, the artist is an expert at defining color and does not need to think twice about mixing and resolving the exact colors that exist. As these colors are only found in nature, a Tetrachromat Artist can singularly showcase the truth of Earth’s true color brilliancy like no other artist can.

Reiterating, “divine” colors can only be found in nature so the Tetrachromat Artist’s subject matter will commonly feature natural earth derived objects. Water, birds, fish and animals, trees, plants and flowers, sky and earth, rocks, humans et al, are the images that will commonly be portrayed. Since high functioning Tetrachromacy reveals all the colors in the natural world, the Tetrachromatism genre will replicate earth’s true visual reality, that which regular human vision cannot see. As a Tetrachromat Artist this may be performed in either the alla prima mode, with natural still life objects, in studio or preferably as and en plein air practice, painting outdoors, where nature is available and therefore easier to capture on canvas.

Upon viewing a Tetrachromat Artist’s work, a certain “vibration” and greater 3-D depth can be noted. Eye-popping clean use of color and value. No reworking allowed so the final work appears life-like with its brilliant colors. The juxtaposition of color will stimulated all receptors providing for a emotionally satisfying view.

What are the consequences of a Tetrachromat Artist?

There are varied consequences to being Tetrachromat Artist. To start with, an exactness is a blessing and a curse. No color choice can be taken lightly, everything in daily life, and particularly with art and color choices and matches must be scrutinized. A fastidiousness with color arises. Frustration can and does arise. Alternatively, there is no challenge using manufactured colors to make nature’s colors when the Tetrachromat Artist’s acuteness for color combined with the artist’s ability to identify and mix it! The is never be a color or value (shade) that cannot be created by the Tetrachromat Artist. The colors mixed will be accurate of the subject being transferred on canvas.

Another consequence arises when color mixing when utilizing manufactured brand paint is actually helpful. Using less tube paint on a palette allows the artist to create more colors. These tube colors can be mixed to accurately create the authentic but replicate able color and value of what is being reproduced. Mother Nature is a wonderful artist and her authentic colors, unfortunately, cannot be pre-made. The Tetrachromat Artist can see even the smallest nuances of color and value in the subject and can mix them in the most accurate way with no hesitation on their own selected palette oil tubes.

Secondly, the genre should not be written off as a “stylistic choice.” The true style of a Tetrachromat Artist is embedded into the genotype, as with what defines style amongst other human qualities. Living immersed in vibrant and varied color, along with seeing the accurate myriad of colors everyday, a Tetrachromat Artist is obliged to paint them. Therefore color behavior and stylistic actions become apparent. Technically, qualities in the artwork will point to an extra color receptor. The work will reveal an authentic reflection of what the colorful world looks like to a Tetrachromat Artist, what it looks like in authentic color, and in reality. As it is hard to know which persons can truly see what the Tetrachromat Artist sees in nature, it will be important to the artist that they may see true color through their artwork. To be able to fully share their creativity of color and portray their self expression fully, a desire will arise to meet others with the same genotype.

In conclusion, the life and art of a Tetrachromat Artist can be isolating as few will see the world’s beauty the way they can. They see what they see in the world, and will do their best to share it by portraying it in paint. Through fine art, they can reveal to everyone the colorful beauty truly exists on the earth. They can also instruct others to resolve more colors too, within their spectrum through close observation and demonstration, as with the teaching of art. Many students of a Tetrachromat Artist can attest to this.

What is the viewer seeing in a Tetrachromat work?

The viewer should be seeing color like they have never experienced before. Many may say, “joy emanates from the work” or “ it speaks to me” or “it appears alive.” They should see a reality unlike anything they have experienced and other art may seem flatter, more devoid of color and will incite less emotion in them. It will captivate less. Viewers may feel as though something spiritual was visually speaking to them. Colorblind persons will note they see more color than they usually do when viewing art, as the fourth receptor use of more color will bridge a color gap for them.


  • The Tetrachromat Artist will have been scientifically studied and be genetically tested and confirmed to possess the genotype.
  • They will have had a lifelong career as a fine artist or some other form of colorist, more particularly as a master painter.
  • They will show brevity in stroke & an “Impressionistic” style portraying the essence of the subject.
  • Application with speed and accuracy – “one and done” method, large canvases filled quickly.
  • Need for less manufactured tube colors to be able to create MORE with limited palette selection as well as ease with selection of base/tube colors.
  • Strong use of color-filled light and shadow may dominate the work.
  • Colors will reveal strong complementaries as well as subtle nuances of color-filled grays.
  • There will be more varied color expressed in each object.
  • A preference for oil-based painted work may prevail which provides unmatched color brilliance, variety and flexibility of application.
  • Preponderance for alla prima (direct method, wet into wet paint application) when working in studio with natural objects.
  • Preference for en plein air (outdoor painting) to capture the colors in nature.
  • Appearance to others of a “vibration” in the work, alive feeling.
  • Authentic Tetrachromat Artist style based in the physical attribute of seeing more color and working fast.
  • Feelings of isolation and desire to show work to other Tetrachromats to satisfy desire to share fully what they see.

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