We are all familiar with the idea that there are strikingly different kinds of eyes in animals: insects have compound eyes with multiple facets, while we vertebrates have simple lens eyes. It seems like a simple evolutionary distinction, with arthropods exhibiting one pattern and vertebrates another, but the story isn't as clean and simple as all that. Protostomes exhibit a variety of different kinds of eyes, leading to the suggestion that eyes have evolved independently many times; in addition, eyes differ in more than just their apparent organization, and there are some significant differences at the molecular level between our photoreceptors and arthropod photoreceptors. It's all very confusing.
There has been some recent press (see also this press release from the EMBL) about research on a particular animal model, the polychaete marine worm, Platynereis dumerilii, that is resolving the confusion. The short answer is that there are fundamentally two different kinds of eyes based on the biology of the cell types, and our common bilaterian ancestor had both—and the diversity arose in elaborations on those two types.
Continue reading "Rhabdomeric and ciliary eyes" (on Pharyngula)