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Many larval sponges possess pigment ring eyes that apparently mediate phototactic swimming. Yet sponges are not known to possess nervous systems or opsin genes, so the unknown molecular components of sponge phototaxis must differ fundamentally from those in other animals, inspiring questions about how this sensory system functions. Here we present molecular and biochemical data on cryptochrome, a candidate gene for functional involvement in sponge pigment ring eyes. We report that Amphimedon queenslandica, a demosponge, possesses two cryptochrome/photolyase genes, Aq-Cry1 and Aq-Cry2. The mRNA of one gene (Aq-Cry2) is expressed in situ at the pigment ring eye. Additionally, we report that Aq-Cry2 lacks photolyase activity and contains a flavin-based co-factor that is responsive to wavelengths of light that also mediate larval photic behavior. These results suggest that Aq-Cry2 may act in the aneural, opsin-less phototaxic behavior of a sponge.



    This work was supported by funds from the National Science Foundation [DEB-0643840 to T.H.O.], the University of California, Santa Barbara [to T.H.O.], the National Institutes of Health [GM31082 to A.S.] and the Australian Research Council [to B.M.D.]. Deposited in PMC for release after 12 months.

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