Subject: Biology, Anatomy & Morphology Keywords: multi-level convergence; evolution; bioluminescence; biological organization; complex trait
Online: 15 December 2020 (10:20:12 CET)
Evolutionary convergence provides natural opportunities to investigate how, when, and why novel traits evolve. Many convergent traits are complex, highlighting the importance of explicitly considering convergence at different levels of biological organization, or ‘multi‐level convergent evolution’. To investigate multi‐level convergent evolution, we propose a holistic and hierarchical framework that emphasizes breaking down traits into several functional modules. We begin by identifying long‐standing questions on the origins of complexity and the diverse evolutionary processes underlying phenotypic convergence to discuss how they can be addressed by examining convergent systems. We argue that bioluminescence, a complex trait that evolved dozens of times through either novel mechanisms or conserved toolkits, is particularly well suited for these studies. We present an updated estimate of at least 94 independent origins of bioluminescence across the tree of life, which we calculated by reviewing and summarizing all estimates of independent origins. Then, we use our framework to review the biology, chemistry, and evolution of bioluminescence, and for each biological level identify questions that arise from our systematic review. We focus on luminous organisms that use the shared luciferin substrates coelenterazine or vargulin to produce light because these organisms convergently evolved bioluminescent proteins that use the same luciferins to produce bioluminescence. Evolutionary convergence does not necessarily extend across biological levels, as exemplified by cases of conservation and disparity in biological functions, organs, cells, and molecules associated with bioluminescence systems. Investigating differences across bioluminescent organisms will address fundamental questions on predictability and contingency in convergent evolution. Lastly, we highlight unexplored areas of bioluminescence research and advances in sequencing and chemical techniques useful for developing bioluminescence as a model system for studying multi‐level convergent evolution.
ARTICLE | doi:10.20944/preprints201904.0107.v2
Online: 15 May 2019 (07:47:16 CEST)
Eyes are quintessential complex traits and our understanding of their evolution guides models 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 as reactions to ongoing light stress. Once under regulatory-genetic control, they could be expressed before light stress appeared, evolve as a module, 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.
REVIEW | doi:10.20944/preprints202209.0432.v1
Subject: Biology, Other Keywords: eye evolution; opsin; photoreceptor; phototransduction; visual cycle
Online: 28 September 2022 (05:12:35 CEST)
Understanding the molecular underpinnings of the evolution of complex (multi-part) systems is a fundamental topic in biology. One unanswered question is the extent to which similar or different genes and regulatory interactions underlie similar complex systems across species. Animal eyes and phototransduction (light detection) are outstanding systems to investigate this question because some of the genetics underlying these traits are well-characterized in model organisms. However, comparative studies using non-model organisms are also necessary to understand the diversity and evolution of these traits. Here, we compare the characteristics of photoreceptor cells, opsins, and phototransduction cascades in diverse taxa, with particular focus on cnidarians. In contrast to the common theme of deep homology, whereby similar traits develop mainly using homologous genes, comparisons of visual systems - especially in non-model organisms - are beginning to highlight a “deep diversity” of underlying components, illustrating how variation can underlie similar complex systems across taxa. Although using candidate genes from model organisms across diversity was a good starting point to understand the evolution of complex systems, unbiased genome-wide comparisons and subsequent functional validation will be necessary to uncover unique genes that comprise complex systems of non-model groups to better understand biodiversity and its evolution.