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[dinosaur] Bird and turtle color vision shows dinosaurs and pterosaurs saw red + evolution of vertebrate eye

Ben Creisler

New papers:

Hanlu Twyman, Nicole Valenzuela, Robert Literman, Staffan Andersson & Nicholas I. Mundy (2016)
Seeing red to being red: conserved genetic mechanism for red cone oil droplets and co-option for red coloration in birds and turtles.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B 283 (20161208)
DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.1208

Avian ketocarotenoid pigments occur in both the red retinal oil droplets that contribute to colour vision and bright red coloration used in signalling. Turtles are the only other tetrapods with red retinal oil droplets, and some also display red carotenoid-based coloration. Recently, the CYP2J19 gene was strongly implicated in ketocarotenoid synthesis in birds. Here, we investigate CYP2J19 evolution in relation to colour vision and red coloration in reptiles using genomic and _expression_ data. We show that turtles, but not crocodiles or lepidosaurs, possess a CYP2J19 orthologue, which arose via gene duplication before turtles and archosaurs split, and which is strongly and specifically expressed in the ketocarotenoid-containing retina and red integument. We infer that CYP2J19 initially functioned in colour vision in archelosaurs and conclude that red ketocarotenoid-based coloration evolved independently in birds and turtles via gene regulatory changes of CYP2J19. Our results suggest that red oil droplets contributed to colour vision in dinosaurs and pterosaurs.


Free pdf:

Sarah E. Gabbott, Philip C. J. Donoghue, Robert S. Sansom, Jakob Vinther, Andrei Dolocan & Mark A. Purnell (2016)
Pigmented anatomy in Carboniferous cyclostomes and the evolution of the vertebrate eye.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B 283 (20161151)
DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.1151. Published 3 August 2016

The success of vertebrates is linked to the evolution of a camera-style eye and sophisticated visual system. In the absence of useful data from fossils, scenarios for evolutionary assembly of the vertebrate eye have been based necessarily on evidence from development, molecular genetics and comparative anatomy in living vertebrates. Unfortunately, steps in the transition from a light-sensitive ‘eye spot’ in invertebrate chordates to an image-forming camera-style eye in jawed vertebrates are constrained only by hagfish and lampreys (cyclostomes), which are interpreted to reflect either an intermediate or degenerate condition. Here, we report—based on evidence of size, shape, preservation mode and localized occurrence—the presence of melanosomes (pigment-bearing organelles) in fossil cyclostome eyes. Time of flight secondary ion mass spectrometry analyses reveal secondary ions with a relative intensity characteristic of melanin as revealed through principal components analyses. Our data support the hypotheses that extant hagfish eyes are degenerate, not rudimentary, that cyclostomes are monophyletic, and that the ancestral vertebrate had a functional visual system. We also demonstrate integument pigmentation in fossil lampreys, opening up the exciting possibility of investigating colour patterning in Palaeozoic vertebrates. The examples we report add to the record of melanosome preservation in Carboniferous fossils and attest to surprising durability of melanosomes and biomolecular melanin.