In animals, light is used as an almost instantaneous information carrier and has a huge importance for survival! Light perception is indeed a crucial sense for interacting with the environment: animals see (i.e. vision) or, more generally, feel the light (i.e. photoreception) even in absence of eyes (i.e. extraocular photoreception)... In contrast, they can also send information through light to other organisms of their own or other species, sometimes including misleading messages: they emit (i.e. bioluminescence), reemit (i.e. fluorescence), reflect (e.g. coloration) or modulate light (e.g. iridescence)...
At the molecular level, light perception is mainly permitted, in animals, by specific G protein-coupled receptors called opsins. Our research mainly aims at a better understanding of how marine organisms are able to perceive light using opsin-based photoreception. How are photoreceptors organised? What is the evolutionary and functional importance of the opsin diversity? How did opsins evolve in eye-less lineages such as echinoderms?
In parallel, we investigate the functional interaction potentially occurring between extraocular photoreception and bioluminescence in luminous animals: are bioluminescent organisms/organs sensitive to their own light? Are luminous organisms controlling their own light emission using photoreception?
This research line is developed in close collaboration with the Marine Biology Laboratory of the Catholic University of Louvain led by Professor Jérôme Mallefet.
Some representative publications :
Opsin-based photoreception in two brittle star species (Amphiura filiformis, Ophiopsila aranea)
High opsin diversity in an infaunal brittle star (Amphiura filiformis)
Opsin-based photoreception in the brittle star Amphiura filiformis, case of the pluteus larvae
Insights on opsin evolution in Echinoderms and Hemichordates