Preprint Article Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

Light-Induced Stress as a Primary Evolutionary Driver of Eye Origins

Version 1 : Received: 5 April 2019 / Approved: 9 April 2019 / Online: 9 April 2019 (11:48:23 CEST)
Version 2 : Received: 15 May 2019 / Approved: 15 May 2019 / Online: 15 May 2019 (07:47:16 CEST)

How to cite: Swafford, A.J.M.; Oakley, T.H. Light-Induced Stress as a Primary Evolutionary Driver of Eye Origins. Preprints 2019, 2019040107. Swafford, A.J.M.; Oakley, T.H. Light-Induced Stress as a Primary Evolutionary Driver of Eye Origins. Preprints 2019, 2019040107.


Eyes are quintessential complex traits and our understanding of their evolution guides understanding of trait evolution in general. A long-standing account of eye evolution argues natural selection favors morphological variations that allow increased functionality for sensing light (Darwin 1859; v. Salvini-Plawen and Mayr 1977; Nilsson and Pelger 1994; Nilsson 2013). While certainly true in part, this focus on visual performance does not entirely explain why diffuse photosensitivity persists even after eyes evolve, or why eyes evolved many times, each time using similar building blocks. Here we briefly review a vast literature indicating most genetic components of eyes historically responded to stress caused directly by light, including UV damage of DNA, oxidative stress, and production of aldehydes. We propose light-induced stress had a direct and prominent role in the evolution of eyes by bringing together genes to repair and prevent damage from light-stress, both before and during the evolution of eyes themselves. Stress-repair and stress-prevention genes were perhaps originally deployed as plastic responses to light and/or as beneficial mutations genetically driving expression where light was prominent. These stress-response genes sense, shield, and refract light but only under UV exposure. Once under regulatory-genetic control, they could be expressed before UV stress appeared, evolve as a single unit, and be influenced by natural selection to increase functionality for sensing light, ultimately leading to complex eyes and behaviors. Recognizing the potentially prominent role of stress in eye evolution invites discussions of plasticity and assimilation and provides a hypothesis for why similar genes are repeatedly used in convergent eyes. Broadening the drivers of eye evolution encourages consideration of multi-faceted mechanisms of plasticity/assimilation and mutation/selection for complex novelties and innovations in general.


evolution; eyes; stress; UV; plasticity


Biology and Life Sciences, Neuroscience and Neurology

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