Wednesday, 3 August 2016

'Red gene' in birds and turtles suggests dinosaurs had bird-like color vision

August 2, 2016

Earlier this year, scientists used zebra finches to pinpoint the gene that enables birds to produce and display the colour red.

Now, a new study shows the same 'red gene' is also found in turtles, which share an ancient common ancestor with birds. Both share a common ancestor with dinosaurs.

The gene, called CYP2J19, allows birds and turtles to convert the yellow pigments in their diets into red, which they then use to heighten colour vision in the red spectrum through droplets of red oil in their retinas.

Birds and turtles are the only existing tetrapods, or land vertebrates, to have these red retinal oil droplets. In some birds and a few turtle species, red pigment produced by the gene is also used for external display: red beaks and feathers, or the red neck patches and rims of shells seen in species such as the painted turtle.

The scientists mined the genetic data of various bird and reptile species to reconstruct an evolutionary history of the CYP2J19 gene, and found that it dated back hundreds of millions of years in the ancient archelosaur genetic line - the ancestral lineage of turtles, birds and dinosaurs.

The findings, published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, provide evidence that the 'red gene' originated around 250 million years ago, predating the split of the turtle lineage from the archosaur line, and runs right the way through turtle and bird evolution.


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