Visualizing the Evolution of Vision and the Eye
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Roadmapping the Evolution of the Eye
Throughout history, numerous creatures have evolved increasingly complex eyes in response to different selective pressures.
Not all organisms, however, experience the same pressures. It’s why some creatures today still have eyes that are quite simple, or why some have no eyes at all. These organisms exemplify eyes that are “frozen” in time. They provide snapshots of the past, or “checkpoints” of how the eye has transformed throughout its evolutionary journey.
Scientists study the genes, anatomy, and vision of these creatures to figure out a roadmap of how the eye came to be. And so, we put together an evolutionary graphic timeline of the eye’s different stages using several candidate species.
Let’s take a look at how the eye has formed throughout time.
Where Vision Comes From
The retina is a layer of nerve tissue, often at the back of the eye, that is sensitive to light.
When light hits it, specialized cells called photoreceptors transform light energy into electrical signals and send them to the brain. Then the brain processes these electrical signals into images, creating vision.
The earliest form of vision arose in unicellular organisms. Containing simple nerve cells that can only distinguish light from dark, they are the most common eye in existence today.
The ability to detect shapes, direction, and color comes from all of the add-ons evolution introduces to these cells.
Two Major Types of Eyes
Two major eye types are dominant across species. Despite having different shapes or specialized parts, improved vision in both eye types is a product of small, gradual changes that optimize the physics of light.
Simple eyes are actually quite complex, but get their name because they consist of one individual unit.
Some mollusks and all of the higher vertebrates, like birds, reptiles, or humans, have simple eyes.
Simple eyes evolved from a pigment cup, slowly folding inwards with time into the shape we recognize today. Specialized structures like the lens, cornea, and pupil arose to help improve the focus of light on the retina. This helps create sharper, clearer images for the brain to process.
Compound eyes are formed by repeating the same basic units of photoreceptors called ommatidia. Each ommatidium is similar to a simple eye, composed of lenses and photoreceptors.
Grouped together, ommatidia form a geodesic pattern that is commonly seen in insects and crustaceans.
Our understanding of the evolution of the compound eye is a bit murky, but we know that rudimentary ommatidia evolved into larger, grouped structures that maximize light capture.
In environments like caves, the deep subsurface, or the ocean floor where little to no light exists, compound eyes are useful for producing vision that gives even the slightest advantage over other species.
How Will Vision Evolve?
Our increasing dependency on technology and digital devices may be ushering in the advent of a new eye shape.
The muscles around the eye stretch to shift the lens when staring at something close by. The eye’s round shape elongates in response to this muscle strain.
Screen time with cellphones, tablets, and computers has risen dramatically over the years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent studies are already reporting rises in childhood myopia, the inability to see far away. Since the pandemic, cases have increased by 17%, affecting almost 37% of schoolchildren.
Other evolutionary opportunities for our eyes are currently less obvious. It remains to be seen whether advanced corrective therapies, like corneal transplants or visual prosthetics, will have any long-term evolutionary impact on the eye.
For now, colored contacts and wearable tech may be our peek into the future of vision.
Fernald, Russell D. “Casting a Genetic Light on the Evolution of Eyes.” Science, vol. 313, no. 5795, 29 Sept. 2006, pp. 1914–1918
Gehring, W. J. “New Perspectives on Eye Development and the Evolution of Eyes and Photoreceptors.” Journal of Heredity, vol. 96, no. 3, 13 Jan. 2005, pp. 171–184. Accessed 18 Dec. 2019.
“The Evolution of Sight | PHOS.”
Land, Michael F, and Dan-Eric Nilsson. Animal Eyes. Oxford ; New York, Oxford University Press, 2002.
“The Major Topics of the Research Work of Prof. Dan-E. Nilsson: Vision-Research.eu – the Gateway to European Vision Research.” Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.
Mapped: The World’s Legal Government Systems
The political regimes of the world’s countries have changed over centuries. This map charts the nine government systems that rule the world today.
Mapping The World’s Legal Government Systems
With over 200 countries existing across the world with unique cultures and traditions, one might assume that there are hundreds of types of government systems. But both historically and in modern times, that’s not the case.
Even while political regimes across these countries have changed over time, they’ve largely followed a few different types of governance. Today, every country can ultimately be classified into just nine broad forms of government systems.
This map by Truman Du uses information from Wikipedia to map the government systems that rule the world today.
Countries By Type of Government
It’s important to note that this map charts government systems according to each country’s legal framework.
Many countries have constitutions stating their de jure or legally recognized system of government, but their de facto or realized form of governance may be quite different.
Here is a list of the stated government system of UN member states and observers as of January 2023:
|Country||Constitutional form||Head of state|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Bahamas, The||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Republic||Ceremonial|
|Central African Republic||Republic||Executive|
|China, People's Republic of||Republic||Ceremonial|
|Congo, Democratic Republic of the||Republic||Executive|
|Congo, Republic of the||Republic||Executive|
|New Zealand||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Papua New Guinea||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Saint Lucia||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||Republic||Executive|
|Saudi Arabia||Absolute monarchy||Executive|
|Solomon Islands||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Republic||Ceremonial|
|United Arab Emirates||Constitutional monarchy||Executive|
|United Kingdom||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Vatican City||Absolute monarchy||Executive|
Let’s take a closer look at some of these systems.
Brought back into the spotlight after the death of Queen Elizabeth II of England in September 2022, this form of government has a single ruler. They carry titles from king and queen to sultan or emperor, and their government systems can be further divided into three modern types: constitutional, semi-constitutional, and absolute.
A constitutional monarchy sees the monarch act as head of state within the parameters of a constitution, giving them little to no real power. For example, King Charles III is the head of 15 Commonwealth nations including Canada and Australia. However, each has their own head of government.
On the other hand, a semi-constitutional monarchy lets the monarch or ruling royal family retain substantial political powers, as is the case in Jordan and Morocco. However, their monarchs still rule the country according to a democratic constitution and in concert with other institutions.
Finally, an absolute monarchy is most like the monarchies of old, where the ruler has full power over governance, with modern examples including Saudi Arabia and Vatican City.
Unlike monarchies, the people hold the power in a republic government system, directly electing representatives to form government. Again, there are multiple types of modern republic governments: presidential, semi-presidential, and parliamentary.
The presidential republic could be considered a direct progression from monarchies. This system has a strong and independent chief executive with extensive powers when it comes to domestic affairs and foreign policy. An example of this is the United States, where the President is both the head of state and the head of government.
In a semi-presidential republic, the president is the head of state and has some executive powers that are independent of the legislature. However, the prime minister (or chancellor or equivalent title) is the head of government, responsible to the legislature along with the cabinet. Russia is a classic example of this type of government.
The last type of republic system is parliamentary. In this system, the president is a figurehead, while the head of government holds real power and is validated by and accountable to the parliament. This type of system can be seen in Germany, Italy, and India and is akin to constitutional monarchies.
It’s also important to point out that some parliamentary republic systems operate slightly differently. For example in South Africa, the president is both the head of state and government, but is elected directly by the legislature. This leaves them (and their ministries) potentially subject to parliamentary confidence.
Many of the systems above involve multiple political parties vying to rule and govern their respective countries.
In a one-party state, also called a single-party state or single-party system, only one political party has the right to form government. All other political parties are either outlawed or only allowed limited participation in elections.
In this system, a country’s head of state and head of government can be executive or ceremonial but political power is constitutionally linked to a single political movement. China is the most well-known example of this government system, with the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China ruling as the de facto leader since 1989.
The final form of government is a provisional government formed as an interim or transitional government.
In this system, an emergency governmental body is created to manage political transitions after the collapse of a government, or when a new state is formed. Often these evolve into fully constitutionalized systems, but sometimes they hold power for longer than expected.
Some examples of countries that are considered provisional include Libya, Burkina Faso, and Chad.
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