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J Exp Zool B Mol Dev Evol. 2011 Nov 15;316(7):484-99. doi: 10.1002/jez.b.21424. Epub 2011 Jul 27.

Developmental evolution of the insect retina: insights from standardized numbering of homologous photoreceptors.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan 48202, USA.


The canonical number of eight photoreceptors and their arrangement in the ommatidia of insect compound eyes is very conserved. However significant variations exist in selective groups, such as the Lepidoptera and Hymenoptera, which independently evolved additional photoreceptors. For this and historical reasons, heterogeneous labeling conventions have been in use for photoreceptor subtypes, despite developmentally and structurally well-defined homologies. Extending earlier efforts, we introduce a universal photoreceptor subtype classification key that relates to the Drosophila numbering system. Its application is demonstrated in major insect orders, with detailed information on the relationship to previous conventions. We then discuss new insights that result from the improved understanding of photoreceptor subtype homologies. This includes evidence of functionally imposed ground rules of differential opsin expression, the underappreciated role of R8 as ancestral color receptor, the causes and consequences of parallel R7 photoreceptor addition in Hymenoptera and Lepidoptera, and the ancestral subfunctionalization of outer photoreceptors cells, which may be only developmentally recapitulated in Drosophila. We conclude with pointing out the need for opsin expression data from a wider range of insect orders.

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