Vision Emerged Much Earlier Than Previously Thought, 700 Million Years Ago

The light-sensitive proteins that are the source of vision, opsins, emerged earlier and have experienced fewer genetic changes than was previously thought.


The research was done using computer modeling “to provide a detailed picture of how and when opsins evolved, sheds light on the origin of sight in animals, including humans. The evolutionary origins of vision remain hotly debated, partly due to inconsistent reports of phylogenetic relationships among the earliest opsin-possessing animals.”

The researchers “performed a computational analysis to test every hypothesis of opsin evolution proposed to date. The analysis incorporated all available genomic information from all relevant animal lineages, including a newly sequenced group of sponges (Oscarella carmela) and the Cnidarians, a group of animals thought to have possessed the world’s earliest eyes.”

“Using this information, the researchers developed a timeline with an opsin ancestor common to all groups appearing some 700 million years ago. This opsin was considered ‘blind’ yet underwent key genetic changes over the span of 11 million years that conveyed the ability to detect light.”

Dr Pisani said: “The great relevance of our study is that we traced the earliest origin of vision and we found that it originated only once in animals. This is an astonishing discovery because it implies that our study uncovered, in consequence, how and when vision evolved in humans.

The new research was just published October 29th in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: University of Bristol

Image Credits: University of Bristol

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