Hyperspectral Vision in Sea Depth

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Science: "At a depth of 1000 meters, the last glimmer of sunlight is gone. But over the past 15 years, researchers have realized that the depths are pervaded by a faint bioluminescence from flashing shrimp, octopus, bacteria, and even fish. To learn how fish can see it, a team led by evolutionary biologist Walter Salzburger from the University of Basel in Switzerland studied deep-sea fishes' opsin proteins. Variation in the opsins' amino acid sequences changes the wavelength of light detected, so multiple opsins make color vision possible. One opsin, RH1, works well in low light. Found in the eye's rod cells, it enables humans to see in the dark—but only in black and white.

Salzburger and his colleagues searched for opsin genes in 101 fish species, including seven Atlantic Ocean deep-sea fish whose genomes they fully sequenced. Most fish have one or two RH1 opsins, like many other vertebrates, but four of the deep-sea species stood apart, the researchers report this week in Science. Those fish—the lantern-fish, a tube-eye fish, and two spinyfins—all had at least five RH1 genes, and one, the silver spinyfin (Diretmus argenteus), had 38.
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