Vision using multiple distinct rod opsins in deep-sea fishes

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Science  10 May 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6440, pp. 588-592
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav4632

Fish catch color with rods

Vertebrates are typically thought to have a consistent system for processing light, in which multiple cone opsins permit color vision during the day, but a single rod opsin provides only monochrome vision in the dark. Musilova et al. analyzed more than 100 deep-sea fish genomes and found a previously unknown proliferation of rod opsin genes that generate rod opsin photopigments that are tuned to different wavelengths of light. These receptors may allow the fish to perceive bioluminescent signals that pervade their deep-sea environment. These results reveal a previously undescribed visual system that allows for color vision in the dark.

Science, this issue p. 588


Vertebrate vision is accomplished through light-sensitive photopigments consisting of an opsin protein bound to a chromophore. In dim light, vertebrates generally rely on a single rod opsin [rhodopsin 1 (RH1)] for obtaining visual information. By inspecting 101 fish genomes, we found that three deep-sea teleost lineages have independently expanded their RH1 gene repertoires. Among these, the silver spinyfin (Diretmus argenteus) stands out as having the highest number of visual opsins in vertebrates (two cone opsins and 38 rod opsins). Spinyfins express up to 14 RH1s (including the most blueshifted rod photopigments known), which cover the range of the residual daylight as well as the bioluminescence spectrum present in the deep sea. Our findings present molecular and functional evidence for the recurrent evolution of multiple rod opsin–based vision in vertebrates.

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