Historical perspective on the development and evolution of eyes and photoreceptors
Published: 1 November 2004
Walter J. Gehring*
Dept. Cell Biology, Biozentrum, University of Basel, Switzerland
The development and evolution of eyes is an "old problem" in biology, which
required a special treatment in Charles Darwin's "Origin of the species" (1882) under the heading of "Difficulties of the theory". Darwin postulated a simple and imperfect eye, as a prototype, which can vary and evolve under natural selection into more complex and perfect eyes. Based upon morphological criteria and the different modes of development of the different kinds of eyes, neodarwinists have postulated that the various eye-types are polyphyletic in origin and that the eyes have evolved independently in the various animal phyla. Recent developmental genetic experiments and molecular phylogenetic analyses cast serious doubts on this interpretation and argue strongly for a monophyletic origin of the eyes from a Darwinian prototype and subsequent divergent, parallel and convergent evolution leading to the various eye-types.