Ancient colour vision: multiple opsin genes in the ancestral vertebrates

Shaun Patrick Collin, Maree A. Knight, Wayne Iwan Davies, Ian C. Potter, David Martin Hunt, A.E.O. Trezise

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Citations (Scopus)


Molecular investigation of the origin of colour vision has discovered five visual pigment (opsin) genes, all of which are expressed in an agnathan (jawless) fish, the lamprey Geotria australis. Lampreys are extant representatives of an ancient group of vertebrates whose origins are thought to date back to at least the early Cambrian, approximately 540 million years ago [1.]. Phylogenetic analysis has identified the visual pigment opsin genes of G. australis as orthologues of the major classes of vertebrate opsin genes. Therefore, multiple opsin genes must have originated very early in vertebrate evolution, prior to the separation of the jawed and jawless vertebrate lineages, and thereby provided the genetic basis for colour vision in all vertebrate species. The southern hemisphere lamprey Geotria australis (Figure 1A,B) possesses a predominantly cone-based visual system designed for photopic (bright light) vision [2. S.P. Collin, I.C. Potter and C.R. Braekevelt, The ocular morphology of the southern hemisphere lamprey Geotria australis Gray, with special reference to optical specializations and the characterisation and phylogeny of photoreceptor types. Brain Behav. Evol. 54 (1999), pp. 96–111.2. and 3.]. Previous work identified multiple cone types suggesting that the potential for colour vision may have been present in the earliest members of this group. In order to trace the molecular evolution and origins of vertebrate colour vision, we have examined the genetic complement of visual pigment opsins in G. australis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)R864-R865
Number of pages2
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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