Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Gecko lizards are a species-rich clade of primarily-nocturnal squamate reptiles. In geckos, adaptations to nocturnality have dramatically reshaped the eye. Perhaps the most notable change is the loss of rod cells in the retina and subsequent “transmutation” of cones into a rod-like morphology and physiology. While many studies have noted the absence of some rod-specific genes, such as the visual pigment Rhodopsin (RH1), these studies have focused on just a handful of species that are nested deep in the gecko phylogeny. Thus, it is not clear whether these changes arose through convergence, are homologous and ubiquitous across geckos, or restricted to a subset of species. Here, we used de novo eye transcriptomes from five gecko species, and genomes from two additional gecko species, representing the breadth of extant gecko diversity (i.e. 4 of the 7 gecko families, spanning the deepest divergence of crown Gekkota), to show that geckos lost expression of almost the entire suite of necessary rod-cell phototransduction genes in the eye, distinct from all other squamate reptiles. Geckos are the first vertebrate group to have lost their complete rod-cell expression pathway, not just the visual pigment. In addition, all sampled species have also lost expression of the cone-opsin SWS2 visual pigment. These results strongly suggest a single loss of rod cells and subsequent cone-to-rod transmutation that occurred prior to the diversification of extant geckos.
Pinto, Brendan J.; Nielsen, Stuart V.; and Gamble, Tony, "Transcriptomic data support a nocturnal bottleneck in the ancestor of gecko lizards" (2019). Biological Sciences Faculty Research and Publications. 761.
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Accepted version. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Vol. 141, (December 2019): 106639. DOI. © 2019 Elsevier. Used with permission.