New Tardigrade Opsins and Differential Expression Analyses Show Ontogenic Variation in Light Perception

Genome Biol Evol. 2021 Aug 3;13(8):evab164. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evab164.


Opsins are light-sensitive proteins involved in many photoreceptive processes, including, but not limited to, vision and regulation of circadian rhythms. Arthropod (e.g., insects, spiders, centipedes, and crabs) opsins have been extensively researched, but the relationships and function of opsins found in lineages that are evolutionarily closely related to the arthropods remains unclear. Multiple, independent, opsin duplications are known in Tardigrada (the water bears), evidencing that protostome opsin duplications are not limited to the Arthropoda. However, the relationships, function, and expression of these new opsins are still unknown. Here, we use two tardigrade transcriptomes with deep coverage to greatly expand our knowledge of the diversity of tardigrade opsins. We reconstruct the phylogenetic relationships of the tardigrade opsins and investigate their ontogenetic expression. We found that while tardigrades have multiple opsins that evolved from lineage-specific duplications of well-understood arthropod opsins, their expression levels change during ontogeny such that most of these opsins are not co-temporally expressed. Co-temporal expression of multiple opsins underpins color vision in Arthropoda and Vertebrata. Our results clearly show duplications of both rhabdomeric and ciliary opsins within Tardigrada, forming clades specific to both the Heterotardigrada and Eutardigrada in addition to multiple independent duplications within genera. However, lack of co-temporal, ontogenetic, expression suggests that while tardigrades possess multiple opsins, they are unlikely to be able to distinguish color.

Keywords: Ecdysozoa; Tardigrada; opsin; phylogeny; transcriptomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Opsins / genetics
  • Perception
  • Phylogeny
  • Spiders*
  • Tardigrada* / genetics
  • Tardigrada* / metabolism


  • Opsins