Int. J. Dev. Biol. 46: 65 - 73 (2002)
© UPV/EHU Press

The genetic control of eye development and its implications for the evolution of the various eye-types.

Walter J Gehring

Biozentrum, University of Basel, Switzerland.

ABSTRACT Mutations in the Pax 6 homologs of mammals and insects prevent eye development and targeted expression of both mammal and insect Pax 6 homologs is capable of inducing functional ectopic eyes. Supported by RNA interference experiments in planarians and nemerteans, these findings indicate that Pax 6 is a universal master control gene for eye morphogenesis. Since all metazoan eyes use rhodopsin as a photoreceptor molecule and the same master control gene for eye development, we postulate a monophyletic origin of the various eye types. The finding of well developed eyes in jellyfish which essentially lack a brain, leads us to propose that the eye as a sensory organ evolved before the brain which is an information processing organ. The finding of highly developed eyes with a lens, vitreous body, stacked membranes like a retina and shielding pigment in unicellular dinoflagellates, raises the possibility that the prototypic eyes might have been acquired from symbionts.