Horseshoe crabs are xiphosuran chelicerates, the sister group to arachnids. As such, they are important for understanding the most recent common ancestor of Euchelicerata and the evolution and diversification of Arthropoda. Limulus polyphemus is the most investigated of the four extant species of horseshoe crabs, and the structure and function of its visual system have long been a major focus of studies critical for understanding the evolution of visual systems in arthropods. Likewise, studies of genes encoding Limulus opsins, the protein component of the visual pigments, are critical for understanding opsin evolution and diversification among chelicerates, where knowledge of opsins is limited, and more broadly among arthropods. In the present study, we sequenced and assembled a high quality nuclear genomic sequence of L. polyphemus and used these data to annotate the full repertoire of Limulus opsins. We conducted a detailed phylogenetic analysis of Limulus opsins, including using gene structure and synteny information to identify relationships among different opsin classes. We used our phylogeny to identify significant genomic events that shaped opsin evolution and therefore the visual system of Limulus. We also describe the tissue expression patterns of the 18 opsins identified and show that transcripts encoding a number, including a peropsin, are present throughout the central nervous system. In addition to significantly extending our understanding of photosensitivity in Limulus and providing critical insight into the genomic evolution of horseshoe crab opsins, this work provides a valuable genomic resource for addressing myriad questions related to xiphosuran physiology and arthropod evolution.
- Limulus polyphemus