Blind cavefish not so blind, Beetlemania and other tidbits…

Stories about cavefish are like buses – you get a seeming infinity of nothing and then loads turn up at once. Just 10 posts ago, I wrote about a study which found that you can restore sight to blind cavefish by cross-breeding individuals from different caves.

The different populations lost their eyes through changes to different sets of genes and in the hybrids, each faulty version was paired with a working one. As a result, the hybrids had fully formed and functional eyes despite having lived in darkness for a million years.

Now, a new study shows that the larvae of blind cavefish can detect light (or more accurately, shadows) too, even without working eyes. They can detect shadows and seek shelter in them, just like the sighted surface-dwelling versions of the same species. The key to the behaviour is their pineal gland, a small organ that regulates the body clock and, in some species, is sensitive to light.

I wrote up the research for Nature News; mosey on over for the full story and some possible explanations for why the fish’s pineal has retained the ability to detect light, even though its eyes have been lost.

Some other things to mention:

An interview with David Attenborough

Last Sunday, I had the enormous pleasure of interviewing Sir David Attenborough, a man whose programmes have inspired my love of nature as a child and my desire to talk about science as an adult.

I met with Sir David at his home and we talked for an hour about Life in Cold Blood, his new series, (watch the trailer here), his life and career, and his views on filmmaking, wildlife, conservation and the natural world.

The interview in its ‘written-up’ form is up at Nature Networks but for readers of this blog, I’ve included the full transcript here. It’s long but it’s well worth the read. Sir David is a superlative raconteur, full of great stories and considered opinions. Hope you like it.

David Attenborough
(Photo by Ed Yong, 2008)

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