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Gene Duplications Enable Sea Snake to See More Color

The annulated sea snake has evolved to see more colors after an ancestor lost that ability, according to a new study appearing in Genome Biology and Evolution. In it, researchers from Australia, the UK, and Vietnam examined published reference genomes for five elapid snake species. Elapid snakes are a family of venomous snakes whose ancestors had lost vision-related opsin genes as they lived in low-light areas, but some of the snakes have more recently shifted to new, brighter environments. Within four taxa — the terrestrial tiger snake and banded krait (Notechis scutatus and Bungarus multicinctus), the amphibious sea krait (Laticauda laticaudata) and the fully marine sea snake — Hydrophis curtus — the researchers noted single copies of rhodopsin 1, long-wavelength opsin, and short-wavelength opsin 1 (SWS1), as expected. But within the annulated sea snake Hydrophis cyanocinctus, they uncovered four intact SWS1 genes, including two that were inverted. "We believe that recent gene duplications have dramatically expanded the range of colors sea snakes can see," first author Isaac Rossetto, a PhD student at the University of Adelaide, says in a statement.