Using opsin genes to see through the eyes of a fish

Thu, Sep 23, 2021, 12:30 pm

Many animals are highly visual. They view their world through photoreceptors sensitive to different wavelengths of light. Animal survival and optimal behavioral performance may select for varying photoreceptor sensitivities depending on animal habitat or visual tasks. Our goal is to understand what drives visual diversity from both an evolutionary and molecular perspective. The group of more than 2000 cichlid fish species are an ideal system for examining such diversity. Cichlid are a colorful group of fresh water fishes. They have undergone adaptive radiation throughout Africa and the new world and occur in rivers and lakes that vary in water clarity. They are also behaviorally complex, having diverse behaviors for foraging, mate choice and even parental care. As a result, cichlids have highly diverse visual systems with cone sensitivities shifting by 30-90 nm between species. Although this group has seven cone opsin genes, individual species differ in which subset of the cone opsins they express. Some species show developmental shifts in opsin expression, switching from shorter to longer wavelength opsins through ontogeny. Other species modify that developmental program to express just one of the sets, causing the large sensitivity differences. Cichlids are therefore natural mutants for opsin expression. We have used cichlid diversity to explore the relationship between visual sensitivities and ecology. We have also exploited the genomic power of the cichlid system to identify genes and mutations that cause opsin expression shifts. Ultimately, our goal is to learn how different cichlid species see the world and whether differences matter. Behavioral experiments suggest they do indeed use color vision to survive and thrive. Cichlids therefore are a unique model for exploring how visual systems evolve in a changing world.

Location: 
Virtual/Guyot 10
Audience: 
Open to the public.
Speaker(s): 

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