Eye - Pigmentation

Pigmentation

The pigment molecules used in the eye are various, but can be used to define the evolutionary distance between different groups, and can also be an aid in determining which are closely related – although problems of convergence do exist.

Opsins are the pigments involved in photoreception. Other pigments, such as melanin, are used to shield the photoreceptor cells from light leaking in from the sides. The opsin protein group evolved long before the last common ancestor of animals, and has continued to diversify since.

There are two types of opsin involved in vision; c-opsins, which are associated with ciliary-type photoreceptor cells, and r-opsins, associated with rhabdomeric photoreceptor cells. The eyes of vertebrates usually contain cilliary cells with c-opsins, and (bilaterian) invertebrates have rhabdomeric cells in the eye with r-opsins. However, some ganglion cells of vertebrates express r-opsins, suggesting that their ancestors used this pigment in vision, and that remnants survive in the eyes. Likewise, c-opsins have been found to be expressed in the brain of some invertebrates. They may have been expressed in ciliary cells of larval eyes, which were subsequently resorbed into the brain on metamorphosis to the adult form. C-opsins are also found in some derived bilaterian-invertebrate eyes, such as the pallial eyes of the bivalve molluscs; however, the lateral eyes (which were presumably the ancestral type for this group, if eyes evolved once there) always use r-opsins. Cnidaria, which are an outgroup to the taxa mentioned above, express c-opsins - but r-opsins are yet to be found in this group. Incidentally, the melanin produced in the raticate is produced in the same fashion as that in vertebrates, suggesting the common descent of this pigment.

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