Illustration showing the eye-like structure in warnowiid dinoflagellates.
(July 1, 2015) A single-celled marine plankton evolved a miniature version of a multi-cellular eye, possibly to help see its prey better, according to University of British Columbia (UBC) research published today in Nature.
In fact, the ‘ocelloid’ within the planktonic predator looks so much like a complex eye that it was originally mistaken for the eye of an animal that the plankton had eaten.
“It’s an amazingly complex structure for a single-celled organism to have evolved,” said lead author Greg Gavelis, a zoology PhD student at UBC. “It contains a collection of sub-cellular organelles that look very much like the lens, cornea, iris and retina of multicellular eyes found in humans and other larger animals.”
Scientists still don’t know exactly how the marine plankton, called warnowiids, use the eye. Warnowiids use small harpoon-like structures to hunt prey cells in the plankton, many of which are transparent.