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Science 313 (5795): 1914-1918

Copyright © 2006 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Casting a Genetic Light on the Evolution of Eyes

Russell D. Fernald

Abstract: Light has been exploited for information by organisms through the evolution of photoreceptors and, ultimately, eyes in animals. Only a handful of eye types exist because the physics of light constrains photodetection. In the past few years, genetic tools have revealed several parallel pathways through which light guides behavior and have provided insights into the convergent evolution of eyes. The gene encoding opsin (the primary phototransduction protein) and some developmental genes had very early origins and were recruited repeatedly during eye evolution. Eye lens proteins arose separately and make up a diverse group, many of which were co-opted from other functions. A major challenge now is understanding how newly discovered pathways for processing light evolved and how they collaborate with eyes to harvest information from light.

Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305–5020, USA.

*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: rfernald{at}

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