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New Insight Into Primate Eye Evolution
Date:5/18/2009

St. Jude study of the nocturnal owl monkey suggests that evolution needed only a few genetic changes to profoundly alter eye anatomy

MEMPHIS, Tenn., May 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Researchers comparing the fetal development of the eye of the owl monkey with that of the capuchin monkey have found that only a minor difference in the timing of cell proliferation can explain the multiple anatomical differences in the two kinds of eyes.

The findings help scientists understand how a structure as complex as the eye could change gradually through evolution, yet remain functional. The findings also offer a lesson in how seemingly simple genetic changes in the brain and nervous system could produce the multiple evolutionary changes seen in more advanced brains, without compromising function.

Analysis for this study was performed at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The primates were housed at the Centro Nacional de Primates in Brazil. Contributing researchers at Cornell University and Universidade Federal do Para, Brazil, approved all procedures. The researchers published their findings in the early online issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The molecular, cellular and genetic pathways that coordinate proliferation during development have been fine-tuned since the first multicellular organisms emerged millions of years ago," said Michael Dyer, Ph.D., member of St. Jude Developmental Neurobiology and the paper's first author. "When these pathways are deregulated during human development, one of the consequences is childhood cancer. Therefore, by studying how changes in the regulation of proliferation during development can lead to dramatic changes in form and function during evolution, we can gain a deeper understanding of these ancient pathways that lie at the heart of many pediatric cancers."

The owl monkey's eye has numerous adapta
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SOURCE St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
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