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Features

Dr. Watson, I Presume
The Intimidata
Mao's China
Killer Tomatoes
On The Job: Critics

Making Waves
Bullet-Proof Teeth
Optical Origami
800-Eye Superfly
Not So Happy Feet
Wakonda's Dreamcatcher
Methane Monsters
Archive
 

Features May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2
   

800-Eye Superfly

 
     

UCSD biologists recently discovered that a key protein in the compound eyes of the fruit fly allows the formation of distinct light-gathering units in each of its 800 unit eyes. This evolutionary change to an “open system” enabled insects to make significant improvements in vision. In contrast, beetles, bees and many mosquito species have the light-gathering units fused together into a “closed system.”

The scientists report in a recent issue of Nature that one of three proteins needed to form these light-gathering units is present in the visual system of fruit flies, house flies and other insects with open-eye systems, but conspicuously absent in species with closed systems. The research team, headed by Charles Zuker, a professor of biology and neurosciences, also showed that the loss of this protein, called “spacemaker,” can convert the eyes of fruit flies from an open-eye system into a closed one. In contrast, the introduction of the protein into a closed-eye system can transform it into an open one.

“These results help illustrate the beauty and power of
evolution,” says Zuker, “and show how ‘little steps’… can
so spectacularly account for major changes in form and function.”

Contributors to Making Waves: Mario Aguilera, '89, Rex Graham, Raymond Hardie, Debra Kain, Daniel B. Kane, Kim McDonald

 

RELATED LINKS

UCSD Division of Biological Science
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Charles Zuker's Faculty Profile
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UCSD Press Release
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"These results help illustrate the beauty and power of evolution," says Zuker, "and show how 'little steps'. can so spectacularly account for major changes in form and function."