Gene responsible for vision uncovered in Hydra

Posted By Ian Randall on 14th March 2010

Research on an ancient group of sea creatures has thrown light on the nature of human vision. Findings of the study of Hydra, by biologists at UC Santa Barbara, are published in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The study located the ion channel gene within Hydra which starts the controls the entrance and exit of ions – initiating the neural impulse of sight. Hydra, distant relatives of jellyfish, are part of the phylum cnidaria, which first evolved 600 million years ago.


The cnidarian, Hydra. Photo credit - Corvana

“We determined which genetic ‘gateway,’ or ion channel, in the hydra is involved in light sensitivity. This is the same gateway that is used in human vision,” said UCSB Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology’s Todd H. Oakley.

Opsin, the gateway gene, is responsible for vision in all vertebrate animals. Insects do use a different manner of vision, however – one which emerged much later in time than that of their animal counterparts.

Oakley added: “This work picks up on earlier studies of the hydra… and continues to challenge the misunderstanding that evolution represents a ladder-like march of progress, with humans at the pinnacle – Instead, it illustrates how all organisms – humans included – are a complex mix of ancient and new characteristics.

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