Allelic variation in Malawi cichlid opsins: a tale of two genera

Journal of Molecular Evolution
A R Smith, Karen L Carleton


The role of sequence variation in the spectral tuning of color vision is well established in many systems. This includes the cichlids of Lake Victoria where sequence variation has been linked to environmental light gradients and speciation. The cichlids of Lake Malawi are a similar model for visual evolution, but the role of gene sequence variation in visual tuning between closely related species is unknown. This work describes such variation in multiple species of two rock-dwelling genera: Metriaclima and Labidochromis. Genomic DNA for seven cone opsin genes was sequenced and the structure of the opsin proteins was inferred. Retinal binding pocket polymorphisms were identified and compared to available data regarding spectral absorbance shifts. Sequence variation with known or potential effects on absorbance spectra were found in four genes: SWS1 (UV sensitive), SWS2B (violet sensitive), RH2Abeta (green sensitive), and LWS (red sensitive). Functional variation was distributed such that each genus had both a variable short-wavelength and long-wavelength sensitive opsin. This suggests spectral tuning is important at the margins of the cichlid visual spectrum. Further, there are two SWS1 opsin alleles that differ in sensitivity b...Continue Reading


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