University of Cambridge > > Evolution and Development Seminar Series > Life in the dark: can deep sea fishes see colours?

Life in the dark: can deep sea fishes see colours?

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Vision in vertebrates is based on different visual proteins (opsins) in the cone and rod cells in the retina. Under ‘dim-light’ conditions, mostly rod receptors are thought to mediate rather color-blind vision by expression of a single rod opsin gene (RH1), while the cones enable colour vision in substantial light intensity. By inspecting 101 fish genomes, we found that three teleost lineages from the dim-light environment of the deep sea have independently expanded their RH1 gene repertoire via gene duplication and subsequent functional diversification. An extreme case of one species stands out with a total of 40 opsin genes in its genome (2 cone + 38 rod opsins), and has the highest number of visual opsins known for animals so far. We found that 14 RH1 genes are simultaneously expressed in the morphologically unique retina this species. The in-vitro synthesis and functional prediction revealed that these genes encode for photopigments with different spectral sensitivities (λmax spanning 65 nm), covering efficiently the range of the residual daylight in the deep sea, as well as bioluminescence emitted from deep-sea organisms. We tested for the putative function of such unique set-up: does such system serve to colour vision, or rather to boost sensitivity within the entire light spectrum in the depth? In any case, we present the first molecular evidence for exclusive multiple (>3) rod-opsin-based vision among vertebrates, and not surprisingly such system has been discovered in the fascinating deep-sea fishes constantly challenged by their extreme environment.

This talk is part of the Evolution and Development Seminar Series series.

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