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Modularity and sense organs in the blind cavefish, Astyanax mexicanus


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SUMMARY Mexican tetra (Astyanax mexicanus) exist as two morphs: a sighted (surface) form and a blind (cavefish) form. In the cavefish, some modules are lost, such as the eye and pigment modules, whereas others are expanded, such as the taste bud and cranial neuromast modules. We suggest that modularity can be viewed as being nested in a manner similar to Baupläne so that modules express unique sets of genes, cells, and processes. In terms of evolution, we conclude that natural selection can act on any of these hierarchical levels within modules or on all the sensory modules as a whole. We discuss interactions within and between modules with reference to the blind cavefish from both genetic and developmental perspectives. The cavefish represents an illuminating example of module interaction, uncoupling of modules, and module expansion.