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The research provides a new understanding of how a species of insect model sees colors


The research provides a new understanding of how a species of insect model sees colors

Drosophila melanogaster under green and red fluorescence used as a marker to indicate the presence of inserted genes. Credit: Camilla Sharkey

Through an effort to characterize the color receptors in the eyes of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogasterResearchers at the University of Minnesota found that the spectrum of light he can see deviates significantly from what was previously recorded.

“The fruit fly was, and continues to be, instrumental in helping scientists understand genetics, neuroscience, cancer and other areas of science study,” said Camilla Sharkey, postdoctoral researcher at the Wardill Lab at the College of Biological Sciences. “Broadening our understanding of how the eye of the fruit fly detects different wavelengths of light will help scientists in their research on color reception and neural processing.”

The research, led by assistant professor Trevor Wardill of U of M, was published in Scientific Reports and it is among the first research of its kind in two decades to examine the sensitivity of Drosophila photoreceptors in 20 years. Through their genetic work and with the help of technological advances, the researchers were able to target specific photoreceptors and examine their sensitivity to different wavelengths of light (or hue).

The study found:

  • all receivers – those that process UV, blue and green – had significant changes in sensitivity to light compared to what was previously known;
  • the most significant change occurred in the green photoreceptor, with its sensitivity to light changing in 92 nanometers (nm) from 508 nm to 600 nm; equivalent to seeing orange better than green;
  • a yellow carotenoid filter in the eye (derived from vitamin A) contributes to this change; and
  • the red pigmented eyes of fruit flies have a long-wavelength light leak between the photoreceptors, which can negatively affect the fly’s vision.
The research provides a new understanding of how a species of insect model sees colors

Wild-type eye color in Drosophila (red eyes) and in those with reduced pigmentation (orange eyes). Credit: Camilla Sharkey

The researchers found this by reducing the carotenoids in the diet of flies with red eyes and testing flies with reduced eye pigmentation. While species of black-eyed flies, such as houseflies, are able to better isolate long-wavelength light for each pixel of their vision, flies with red eyes, such as fruit flies, are likely to suffer from a degraded visual image.

“The carotenoid filter, which absorbs light in the blue and violet light spectrum, also has a side effect,” said Sharkey. “It makes the ultraviolet light photoreceptors sharper, providing flies with better light wavelength discrimination and, as a result, better color vision.”

New method developed to help scientists understand how the brain processes colors

More information:
Scientific Reports (2020). DOI: 10.1038 / s41598-020-74742-1

Provided by the University of Minnesota

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