Open Access Open Badges Research article

Genetic mechanisms involved in the evolution of the cephalopod camera eye revealed by transcriptomic and developmental studies

Masa-aki Yoshida and Atsushi Ogura*

Author Affiliations

Ochadai Academic Production, Ochanomizu University, Ohtsuka 2-1-1, Bunkyo, Tokyo, Japan

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:180  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-180

Published: 24 June 2011



Coleoid cephalopods (squids and octopuses) have evolved a camera eye, the structure of which is very similar to that found in vertebrates and which is considered a classic example of convergent evolution. Other molluscs, however, possess mirror, pin-hole, or compound eyes, all of which differ from the camera eye in the degree of complexity of the eye structures and neurons participating in the visual circuit. Therefore, genes expressed in the cephalopod eye after divergence from the common molluscan ancestor could be involved in eye evolution through association with the acquisition of new structural components. To clarify the genetic mechanisms that contributed to the evolution of the cephalopod camera eye, we applied comprehensive transcriptomic analysis and conducted developmental validation of candidate genes involved in coleoid cephalopod eye evolution.


We compared gene expression in the eyes of 6 molluscan (3 cephalopod and 3 non-cephalopod) species and selected 5,707 genes as cephalopod camera eye-specific candidate genes on the basis of homology searches against 3 molluscan species without camera eyes. First, we confirmed the expression of these 5,707 genes in the cephalopod camera eye formation processes by developmental array analysis. Second, using molecular evolutionary (dN/dS) analysis to detect positive selection in the cephalopod lineage, we identified 156 of these genes in which functions appeared to have changed after the divergence of cephalopods from the molluscan ancestor and which contributed to structural and functional diversification. Third, we selected 1,571 genes, expressed in the camera eyes of both cephalopods and vertebrates, which could have independently acquired a function related to eye development at the expression level. Finally, as experimental validation, we identified three functionally novel cephalopod camera eye genes related to optic lobe formation in cephalopods by in situ hybridization analysis of embryonic pygmy squid.


We identified 156 genes positively selected in the cephalopod lineage and 1,571 genes commonly found in the cephalopod and vertebrate camera eyes from the analysis of cephalopod camera eye specificity at the expression level. Experimental validation showed that the cephalopod camera eye-specific candidate genes include those expressed in the outer part of the optic lobes, which unique to coleoid cephalopods. The results of this study suggest that changes in gene expression and in the primary structure of proteins (through positive selection) from those in the common molluscan ancestor could have contributed, at least in part, to cephalopod camera eye acquisition.