"Normally, amino acid changes cause small structure changes, but in this case, a critical amino acid was deleted," Yokoyama says.
More examples likely
"The finding implies that we can find more examples of a similar switch to violet vision in different fish lineages," he adds. "Comparing violet and UV pigments in fish living in different habitats will open an unprecedented opportunity to clarify the molecular basis of phenotypic adaptations, along with the genetics of UV and violet vision."
Scabbardfish spend much of their life at depths of 25 to 100 meters, where UV light is less intense than violet light, which could explain why they made the vision shift, Yokoyama theorizes. Lampfish also spend much of their time in deep water. But they may have retained UV vision because they feed near the surface at twilight on tiny, translucent crustaceans that are easier to see in UV light.
A framework for evolutionary biology
Last year, Yokoyama and collaborators completed a comprehensive project to track changes in the dim-light vision protein opsin in nine fish species, chameleons, dolphins and elephants, as the animals spread into new environments and diversified over time. The researchers found that adaptive changes occur by a small number of amino acid substitutions, but most substitutions do not lead to functional changes.
Their results provided a reference framework for further research, and helped bring to light the limitations of studies that rely on statistical analysis of gene sequences alone to identify adaptive mutations in proteins.
"Evolutionary biology is filled with arguments that are misleading, at best
|Contact: Beverly Clark|