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Opsin-based photopigments expressed in the retina of a South American pit viper, Bothrops atrox (Viperidae).pdf (1.01 MB)

Opsin-based photopigments expressed in the retina of a South American pit viper, Bothrops atrox (Viperidae)

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journal contribution
posted on 11.02.2021, 04:55 by Christiana Katti, Micaela Stacey-Solis, Nicole A Coronet-Rojas, Wayne IL Davies
Abstract: Although much is known about the visual system of vertebrates in general, studies regarding vision in reptiles, and snakes in particular, are scarce. Reptiles display diverse ocular structures, including different types of retinae such as pure cone, mostly rod, or duplex retinas (containing both rods and cones); however, the same five opsin-based photopigments are found in many of these animals. It is thought that ancestral snakes were nocturnal and/or fossorial, and, as such, they have lost two pigments, but retained three visual opsin classes. These are the RH1 gene (rod opsin or rhodopsin-like-1) expressed in rods and two cone opsins, namely LWS (long-wavelength-sensitive) and SWS1 (short-wavelength-sensitive-1) genes. Until recently, the study of snake photopigments has been largely ignored. However, its importance has become clear within the past few years as studies reconsider Walls’ transmutation theory, which was first proposed in the 1930s. In this study, the visual pigments of Bothrops atrox (the common lancehead), a South American pit viper, were examined. Specifically, full-length RH1 and LWS opsin gene sequences were cloned, as well as most of the SWS1 opsin gene. These sequences were subsequently used for phylogenetic analysis and to predict the wavelength of maximum absorbance (λmax) for each photopigment. This is the first report to support the potential for rudimentary color vision in a South American viper, specifically a species that is regarded as being nocturnal.


This work was supported by the Proyecto Prometeo of the Secretaria de Educacion Superior, Ciencia, Tecnologia e Innovacion del Ecuador (SENESCYT) (CK), the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador (CK), as well as the Australian Research Council (ARC) via a Future Fellowship (FT110100176) and a Discovery Project grant (DP140102117) awarded to WILD. The authors would like to thank Omar Torres Carvajal and the Proyecto Arca de Noe (SENESCYT) for collection of the specimen used in this work, as well as Diego Quirola, Juan Carlos Sanchez, and Gustavo Pazmino for providing the photographs of B. atrox. The permit for research MAE-DNB-CM-2018-0097 was granted to CK by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment (Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador-MAE) which reviewed and approved the protocols used within this research project.


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