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Keywords:

  • colour vision;
  • molecular genetics;
  • opsin;
  • polarization vision;
  • protein evolution;
  • visual pigment

Abstract

Stomatopod crustaceans have the most complex assemblage of visual receptor classes known; retinas of many species are thought to express up to 16 different visual pigments. Physiological studies indicate that stomatopods contain up to six distinct middle-wavelength-sensitive (MWS) photoreceptor classes, suggesting that no more than six different MWS opsin gene copies exist per species. However, we previously reported the unexpected expression of 615 different MWS genes in retinas of each of five stomatopod species (Visual Neurosci 26: 255–266, 2009). Here, we present a review of the results reported in this publication, plus new results that shed light on the origins of the diverse colour and polarization visual capabilities of stomatopod crustaceans. Using in situ hybridization of opsins in photoreceptor cells, we obtained new results that support the hypothesis of an ancient functional division separating spatial and polarizational vision from colour vision in the stomatopods. Since evolutionary trace analysis indicates that stomatopod MWS opsins have diverged both with respect to spectral tuning and to cytoplasmic interactions, we have now further analyzed these data in an attempt to uncover the origins, diversity and potential specializations among clades for specific visual functions. The presence of many clusters of highly similar transcripts suggests exuberant opsin gene duplication has occurred in the stomatopods, together with more conservative, ancient gene duplication events within the stem crustacean lineage. Phylogenetic analysis of opsin relatedness suggests that opsins specialized for colour vision have diverged from those devoted to polarization vision, and possibly motion and spatial vision.