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Plankton Eyeball

July 20, 2015

Scientists take a close look at a single-celled organism with a complex eye




Light micrograph (left), illustration (center) and transmission electron micrograph (right) show the eye-like structure in warnowiid dinoflagellates. (Hoppenrath and Leander)

Tiny creatures with big eyes. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

If you look into a microscope at single-celled ocean organisms called dinoflagellates, some of them might seem to look right back at you, with large, unblinking eyes. The creatures are warnowiids, and in the journal Nature, University of British Columbia zoologist Greg Gavelis reports that although the creatures have just one cell, their eye has a retina, lens and iris.

GREG GAVELIS (University of British Columbia):

The sort of features that you’d really only expect from an animal or a human-like eye.


He and his colleagues found that warnowiids prey on transparent plankton. They suspect the eye detects changes in light polarization to help them find dinner.


Anything that can see polarization in a sense has the ability to pull away the veil and see translucent organisms.


Gavelis says it’s remarkable that such a complex eye could evolve within a single cell.  I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.