Working in the dark


Davide FaggionatoBefore you even begin an experiment, you must learn the various lab techniques and instrumentation. Now imagine learning all that in the dark. That's exactly how Davide Faggionato studies opsins found in scallop eyes.

Opsins are a group of light-sensitive proteins found in the retina. In studying opsins, Faggionato uses scallops as a model organism because they have up to one hundred eyes and 12 different opsins. In his experiments, Faggionato must harness the genetic information from a gene to express the opsin outside the scallop. Because opsins are light-sensitive, he must do this with only a red safety-lamp as his source of light. The experience is much like working in a photographer's dark room.

Faggionato hopes to understand how changes at the gene sequence of opsin alters its ability to absorb, or sense, a specific wavelength of light. The more different types of opsins an animal eye has, the better it is at seeing color. But scallops lack a brain and so cannot interpret the light into a visual image. Why then do scallops have so many more opsins than humans and other animals?

That's a question Faggionato hopes to answer in his dark room experiments.