The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 46: 65 - 73 (2002)

Vol 46, Issue 1

Special Issue: Developmental Biology in Switzerland

The genetic control of eye development and its implications for the evolution of the various eye-types

Published: 1 January 2002

Walter J Gehring

Biozentrum, University of Basel, Switzerland.


Mutations in the Pax 6 homologs of mammals and insects prevent eye development and targeted expression of both mammal and insect Pax 6 homologs is capable of inducing functional ectopic eyes. Supported by RNA interference experiments in planarians and nemerteans, these findings indicate that Pax 6 is a universal master control gene for eye morphogenesis. Since all metazoan eyes use rhodopsin as a photoreceptor molecule and the same master control gene for eye development, we postulate a monophyletic origin of the various eye types. The finding of well developed eyes in jellyfish which essentially lack a brain, leads us to propose that the eye as a sensory organ evolved before the brain which is an information processing organ. The finding of highly developed eyes with a lens, vitreous body, stacked membranes like a retina and shielding pigment in unicellular dinoflagellates, raises the possibility that the prototypic eyes might have been acquired from symbionts.

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