I always wondered about this
by Matthew Cobb
I have a student who is writing a dissertation about the evolution of opsins – molecules that respond to light, which we use to see with. These molecules apparently have their origins deep in evolutionary time, long before there were animals, perhaps going back to 3.5 billion years, shortly after the appearance of life. While I was reading a draft, I wondered why organisms that use electromagnetic radiation for clocks and seeing (like us) and those that use it for getting energy (like plants, algae and cyanobacteria) all use pretty much the same part of the electromagnetic spectrum – the ‘visual’ spectrum. No organism can detect X-rays or radio waves (which are at opposite ends of the EM spectrum). Why not?
Unlike Jerry, I use Twitter, so I asked my tweeps why no organism can detect radio waves. Many of the answers fell into these three groups:
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