What's an Eyespot? - Evolution of Eyes - Euglena
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What's an Eyespot?

Euglena with eyespot
Euglena with red eyespot
(thanks to Sharon Mooney)

About two billion years ago, or maybe a little later, some eukaryote cells developed the ability to see. The cells that had evolved the ability to photosynthesize needed light in order to make their food. So it was important to these cells to be able to find sunlight to use in the photosynthesis.

Eyespots, like other parts of a cell such as lysosomes or golgi bodies, have a lipid membrane around them. Inside, eyespots have as many as twenty different kinds of protein molecules. These often have a dark or reddish color, as you can see in the picture.

The eyespots are near the flagellum, so they can control how the flagellum moves. When light hits some of these proteins, the protein builds a molecule that tells the flagellum to start moving the cell in the direction of the light. These eyespots are the ancestors of eyes.

Learn by doing - Building RNA molecules
More about the evolution of eyes

Bibliography and further reading about eyespots:

Parts of a Cell
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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