What humans can learn from cave-dwelling fish

A domino effect from the silencing of a single gene could offer new insight into human eye disorders


A fish with eyes that degenerate just a few days after they begin to develop could enhance understanding of vision loss in humans.

US researchers have highlighted how a single gene can have multiple roles in generating blindness in a Mexican tropical freshwater fish.

Scientists identified 26 genes in blind cavefish that are silenced during its development. These genes are also expressed in human eyes and 19 of the genes are linked to human eye disorders.

The study was led by the National Institutes of Health in collaboration with the University of Maryland. It is published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. 

Study author, Professor William Jeffery, of the University of Maryland, described how the research shows that a single gene can have multiple roles in causing blindness by simultaneously silencing the function of many downstream genes.

“Since most of the silenced genes also cause human eye diseases, our study has importance to biomedicine, as well as for understanding the evolution of eye loss in dark caves,” he shared.