Molecular advances to study the function, evolution and spectral tuning of arthropod visual opsins

Marjorie A. Liénard, Wendy A. Valencia-Montoya, Naomi E. Pierce

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Visual opsins of vertebrates and invertebrates diversified independently and converged to detect ultraviolet to long wavelengths (LW) of green or red light. In both groups, colour vision largely derives from opsin number, expression patterns and changes in amino acids interacting with the chromophore. Functional insights regarding invertebrate opsin evolution have lagged behind those for vertebrates because of the disparity in genomic resources and the lack of robust in vitro systems to characterize spectral sensitivities. Here, we review bioinformatic approaches to identify and model functional variation in opsins as well as recently developed assays to measure spectral phenotypes. In particular, we discuss how transgenic lines, cAMP-spectroscopy and sensitive heterologous expression platforms are starting to decouple genotype-phenotype relationships of LW opsins to complement the classical physiological-behavioural-phylogenetic toolbox of invertebrate visual sensory studies. We illustrate the use of one heterologous method by characterizing novel LW Gq opsins from 10 species, including diurnal and nocturnal Lepidoptera, a terrestrial dragonfly and an aquatic crustacean, expressing them in HEK293T cells, and showing that their maximum absorbance spectra (λmax) range from 518 to 611 nm. We discuss the advantages of molecular approaches for arthropods with complications such as restricted availability, lateral filters, specialized photochemistry and/or electrophysiological constraints. This article is part of the theme issue 'Understanding colour vision: molecular, physiological, neuronal and behavioural studies in arthropods'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20210279
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1862
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Oct 24

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Evolutionary Biology

Free keywords

  • comparative sequence analysis
  • heterologous expression
  • light-sensitive opsins
  • protein modelling
  • visual pigments


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