Scientists discover 600 million-year-old origins of vision

Mar 11, 2010
This is a hydra, an ancient sea creature that flourishes today. Credit: Todd Oakley, UCSB

By studying the hydra, a member of an ancient group of sea creatures that is still flourishing, scientists at UC Santa Barbara have made a discovery in understanding the origins of human vision. The finding is published in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a British journal of biology.

Hydra are simple animals that, along with , belong to the phylum cnidaria. Cnidarians first emerged 600 million years ago.

"We determined which genetic 'gateway,' or , in the hydra is involved in light sensitivity," said senior author Todd H. Oakley, assistant professor in UCSB's Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology. "This is the same gateway that is used in human vision."

Oakley explained that there are many genes involved in vision, and that there is an ion channel gene responsible for starting the neural impulse of vision. This gene controls the entrance and exit of ions; i.e., it acts as a gateway.

The gene, called opsin, is present in vision among vertebrate animals, and is responsible for a different way of seeing than that of animals like flies. The vision of insects emerged later than the visual machinery found in hydra and vertebrate animals.

"This work picks up on earlier studies of the in my lab, and continues to challenge the misunderstanding that evolution represents a ladder-like march of progress, with humans at the pinnacle," said Oakley. "Instead, it illustrates how all organisms -- humans included -- are a complex mix of ancient and new characteristics."

Explore further: Noted researchers warn that biomedical research system in US is unsustainable

Related Stories

'Orphan' genes play an important role in evolution

Nov 18, 2008

Closely related animal species share most of their genes and look almost identical. However, minor morphological differences allow us to tell them apart. What is the genetic basis for these differences? Often, the explanation ...

Mythical Monster Hydra in the Petri Dish

Aug 02, 2007

In a story from Greek mythology, Hercules defeats the many-headed Hydra living in water. The story appears magical – monsters with several heads do not exist. Scientists from the Animal Ecology and Cell Biology Institute ...

Cancer: 'Primitive' gene discovered

Feb 11, 2010

To find the causes for cancer, biochemists and developmental biologists at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, retraced the function of an important human cancer gene 600 million years back in time. For ...

Fish vision discovery makes waves in natural selection

Oct 16, 2009

Emory University researchers have identified the first fish known to have switched from ultraviolet vision to violet vision, or the ability to see blue light. The discovery is also the first example of an ...

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...