Evolutionary tinkering with visual photoreception.

Visual neuroscience

PubMedID: 22391141

Goldsmith TH. Evolutionary tinkering with visual photoreception. Vis Neurosci. 2013;30(1-2):21-37.
Eyes have evolved many times, and arthropods and vertebrates share transcription factors for early development. Moreover, the photochemistry of vision in all eyes employs an opsin and the isomerization of a retinoid from the 11-cis to the all-trans configuration. The opsins, however, have associated with several different G proteins, initiating hyperpolarizing and depolarizing conductance changes at the photoreceptor membrane. Beyond these obvious instances of homology, much of the evolutionary story is one of tinkering, producing a great variety of morphological forms and variation within functional themes. This outcome poses a central issue in the convergence of evolutionary and developmental biology: what are the heritable features in the later stages of development that give natural selection traction in altering phenotypic outcomes? This paper discusses some results of evolutionary tinkering where this question arises and, in some cases, where the reasons for particular outcomes and the role of adaptation may not be understood. Phenotypic features include: the exploitation of microvilli in rhabdomeric photoreceptors for detecting the plane of polarized light; different instances of retinoid in the visual pigment; examples of the many uses of accessory pigments in tuning the spectral sensitivity of photoreceptors; selection of opsins in tuning sensitivity in aquatic environments; employing either reflection or refraction in the optics of compound eyes; the multiple ways of constructing images in compound eyes; and the various ways of regenerating 11-cis retinals to maintain visual sensitivity. Evolution is an irreversible process, but tinkering may recover some lost functions, albeit by new mutational routes. There is both elegance and intellectual coherence to the natural processes that produce such variety and functional complexity. But marginalizing the teaching of evolution in public education is a continuing social and political problem that contributes to the reckless capacity of humans to alter the planet without trying to understand how nature works.