Natures wonders: plankton depth perception (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Wednesday, June 27, 2018, 18:45 (606 days ago) @ David Turell

A rudimentary visual system is studied:

"The eyes of some marine-dwelling creatures have evolved to act like a "depth gauge", allowing these creatures to swim in the open ocean at a certain depth .


"The researchers studied the larvae of the marine ragworm, Platynereis dumerilii. The larvae of Platynereis are free-swimming plankton. Each has a transparent brain and six small, pigmented eyes which contain rhabdomeric photoreceptors . These enable the larvae to detect and swim towards light sources. Yet the larval brain also contains ciliary photoreceptors, the role of which was previously unknown.

"The new research has revealed that ultraviolet light activates these ciliary photoreceptors, whereas cyan, or blue-green light inhibits them. Shining ultraviolet light onto Platynereis larvae makes the larvae swim downwards. By contrast, cyan light activates the rhabdomeric pigmented eyes and makes the larvae swim upwards.

"In the ocean, ultraviolet light is most intense near the surface, while cyan light reaches greater depths. Ciliary photoreceptors are therefore shown to help Platynereis avoid harmful ultraviolet radiation near the surface. Though if the larvae swim too deep, cyan light inhibits the ciliary photoreceptors and activates the rhabdomeric pigmented eyes. This makes the larvae swim upwards again.

"The research team also used high-powered electron microscopy to show that the neural circuits containing ciliary photoreceptors exchange messages with circuits containing rhabdomeric photoreceptors—suggesting the two work together to form a 'depth gauge'.

"By enabling the larvae to swim at a preferred depth, the depth gauge influences where the worms end up as adults.

"Professor Gaspar Jekely, from Exeter's Living Systems Institute said: "The idea that marine animals could use light to estimate their depth has already been proposed by theoretician, but to our knowledge this is the first time that such a mechanism has been experimentally studied."

"Csaba VerasztĂł, one of the first authors of the study added: "Detecting different types of light with different photoreceptor cells in marine plankton may have been the ancestral framework for light detection in animals."

"The depth gauge in Platynereis larvae represents an important new mechanism to influence the distribution of marine animals. Its discovery should also stimulate new ideas about the evolution of eyes and photoreceptors."

Comment: Since a 'certain depth' is important to the life of the plankton, it would appear they were designed this way from the beginning of their existence.

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