Belinda S.W. Chang



St. George (downtown)

CSB Appointment


Research Areas

Animal Biology, Bioinformatics / Computational Biology, Evolutionary Biology, Genetics / Genomics, Molecular Biology, Neurobiology


Ph.D. Harvard 1995

Primary Undergraduate Department

Cell & Systems Biology

Graduate Programs

Cell & Systems Biology
Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Genome Biology & Bioinformatics

Research Description

Vision in animals is triggered via absorption of a photon by a visual pigment located in the photoreceptors of the eye, resulting in a signal to the brain that light has been perceived. Changes in the functional properties of visual pigments can therefore have profound consequences on the visual capabilities of an organism. The visual system has a surprisingly large dynamic range, and is highly specialized for the efficient sensing of light even under very low light levels. How is this achieved at the molecular level? We are also interested in mechanisms of spectral tuning, and the evolution of color vision. We study these and other questions by reconstructing the evolutionary history of visual pigments, so that important changes in their function can be examined experimentally. This involves using computational tools to infer ancestral pigment sequences, followed by synthesis and expression of the ancestral genes in the laboratory so that their biochemical properties can be assayed directly. We compare reconstructed ancestors with present day visual pigments, particularly those from animals that live in unusual visual environments. Our research uses a variety of interdiscplinary approaches to better understand the evolution of visual pigment structure and function, including next generation sequencing, computational sequence analysis, site-directed mutagenesis and protein expression.

Contact Information

Office Phone: 416-978-3507
Office: RW 541
Lab: RW 501/RW 502
Lab Phone: 416-946-0363

Mailing Address

Department of Cell & Systems Biology
University of Toronto
25 Harbord St.
Toronto, ON M5S 3G5

Visit lab’s website

Recent News

Undergraduate researchers reveal exciting project results at year-end poster session to earn F Michael Barrett Award

On Friday, April 5th, 2024 students from the CSB497, 498 and 499 independent research programs presented their project results in a poster session…

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Professor Chang’s Research Featured in The Atlantic

Dr Sarah Dungan was interviewed about her work in Professor Chang's lab on reconstructing ancestral rhodopsin in cetaceans. The story was published…

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Convergent evolution of dim light vision in owls and deep-diving whales

Castiglione GM, Chiu YL, Gutierrez EdA, Van Nynatten A, Hauser FE, Preston M, Bhattacharyya N, Schott RK, Chang BS
2023, Current Biology, 10.1016/j.cub.2023.09.015

Adaptation of Antarctic Icefish Vision to Extreme Environments

Castiglione GM, Hauser FE, Van Nynatten A, Chang BSW
2023, Molecular Biology and Evolution, 10.1093/molbev/msad030

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Ancient whale rhodopsin reconstructs dim-light vision over a major evolutionary transition: Implications for ancestral diving behavior

Dungan SZ, Chang BSW
2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 10.1073/pnas.2118145119

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Simultaneous expression of UV and violet SWS1 opsins expands the visual palette in a group of freshwater snakes

Hauzman E, Pierotti MER, Bhattacharyya N, Tashiro JH, Yovanovich CAM, Campos PF, Ventura DF, Chang BSW, Yoder A
2021, Molecular Biology and Evolution, 10.1093/molbev/msab285

Self-tunable engineered yeast probiotics for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease

Scott BM, Gutiérrez-Vázquez C, Sanmarco LM, da Silva Pereira JA, Li Z, Plasencia A, Hewson P, Cox LM, O’Brien M, Chen SK, Moraes-Vieira PM, Chang BSW, Peisajovich SG, Quintana FJ
2021, Nature Medicine, 10.1038/s41591-021-01390-x

Evolution, inactivation and loss of short wavelength‐sensitive opsin genes during the diversification of Neotropical cichlids

Hauser FE, Ilves KL, Schott RK, Alvi E, López‐Fernández H, Chang BS
2021, Molecular Ecology, 10.1111/mec.15838

Recreated Ancestral Opsin Associated with Marine to Freshwater Croaker Invasion Reveals Kinetic and Spectral Adaptation

Van Nynatten A, Castiglione GM, de A. Gutierrez E, Lovejoy NR, Chang BSW
2021, Molecular Biology and Evolution, 10.1093/molbev/msab008

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Corticotropin-Releasing Factor: An Ancient Peptide Family Related to the Secretin Peptide Superfamily

Michalec OM, Chang BSW, Lovejoy NR, Lovejoy DA
2020, Frontiers in Endocrinology, 10.3389/fendo.2020.00529

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Convergent patterns of evolution of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) genes in electric fishes

Elbassiouny AA, Lovejoy NR, Chang BSW
2019, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 10.1098/rstb.2019.0179

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Functional Shifts in Bat Dim-Light Visual Pigment Are Associated with Differing Echolocation Abilities and Reveal Molecular Adaptation to Photic-Limited Environments

Gutierrez EdA, Castiglione GM, Morrow JM, Schott RK, Loureiro LO, Lim BK, Chang BSW, O’Connell M
2018, Molecular Biology and Evolution, 10.1093/molbev/msy140

Coupling of Human Rhodopsin to a Yeast Signaling Pathway Enables Characterization of Mutations Associated with Retinal Disease

Scott BM, Chen SK, Bhattacharyya N, Moalim AY, Plotnikov SV, Heon E, Peisajovich SG, Chang BSW
2018, Genetics, 10.1534/genetics.118.301733

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Cone-like rhodopsin expressed in the all-cone retina of the colubrid pine snake as a potential adaptation to diurnality.

Bhattacharyya N, Darren B, Schott RK, Tropepe V, Chang BSW
2017, The Journal of experimental biology, 220, 2418-2425, 28468872

Accelerated Evolution and Functional Divergence of the Dim Light Visual Pigment Accompanies Cichlid Colonization of Central America

Hauser FE, Ilves KL, Schott RK, Castiglione GM, López-Fernández H, Chang BS
2017, Molecular Biology and Evolution, 10.1093/molbev/msx192

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Spectral tuning in vertebrate short wavelength-sensitive 1 (SWS1) visual pigments: Can wavelength sensitivity be inferred from sequence data?

Hauser FE, van Hazel I, Chang BS
2014, Journal of experimental zoology. Part B, Molecular and developmental evolution, 24890094

Selection on synonymous codons in mammalian rhodopsins: a possible role in optimizing translational processes

Du J, Dungan SZ, Sabouhanian A, Chang BS
2014, BMC evolutionary biology, 14, 96, 24884412

Molecular evolution of GPCRs: CRH/CRH receptors

Lovejoy DA, Chang BS, Lovejoy NR, del Castillo J
2014, Journal of molecular endocrinology, 52, T43-60, 24711645

Ancient insights into uric acid metabolism in primates

Chang BS
2014, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111, 3657-8, 24556992

Divergent positive selection in rhodopsin from lake and riverine cichlid fishes

Schott RK, Refvik SP, Hauser FE, López-Fernández H, Chang BS
2014, Molecular biology and evolution, 31, 1149-65, 24509690

Encoding asymmetry of the N-glycosylation motif facilitates glycoprotein evolution

Williams R, Ma X, Schott RK, Mohammad N, Ho CY, Li CF, Chang BS, Demetriou M, Dennis JW
2014, PloS one, 9, e86088, 24475074

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The Burmese python genome reveals the molecular basis for extreme adaptation in snakes

Castoe TA, de Koning AP, Hall KT, Card DC, Schield DR, Fujita MK, Ruggiero RP, Degner JF, Daza JM, Gu W, Reyes-Velasco J, Shaney KJ, Castoe JM, Fox SE, Poole AW, Polanco D, Dobry J, Vandewege MW, Li Q, Schott RK, Kapusta A, Minx P, Feschotte C, Uetz P, Ray DA, Hoffmann FG, Bogden R, Smith EN, Chang BS, Vonk FJ, Casewell NR, Henkel CV, Richardson MK, Mackessy SP, Bronikowski AM, Bronikowsi AM, Yandell M, Warren WC, Secor SM, Pollock DD
2013, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110, 20645-50, 24297902

Functional characterization of spectral tuning mechanisms in the great bowerbird short-wavelength sensitive visual pigment (SWS1), and the origins of UV/violet vision in passerines and parrots

van Hazel I, Sabouhanian A, Day L, Endler JA, Chang BS
2013, BMC evolutionary biology, 13, 250, 24499383

Molecular evolutionary analysis of vertebrate transducins: a role for amino acid variation in photoreceptor deactivation

Lin YG, Weadick CJ, Santini F, Chang BS
2013, Journal of molecular evolution, 77, 231-45, 24145862

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Complex patterns of divergence among green-sensitive (RH2a) African cichlid opsins revealed by Clade model analyses

Weadick CJ, Chang BS
2012, BMC evolutionary biology, 12, 206, 23078361

Visual pigment molecular evolution in the Trinidadian pike cichlid (Crenicichla frenata): a less colorful world for neotropical cichlids?

Weadick CJ, Loew ER, Rodd FH, Chang BS
2012, Molecular biology and evolution, 29, 3045-60, 22809797

Functional characterization of the rod visual pigment of the echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), a basal mammal

Bickelmann C, Morrow JM, Müller J, Chang BS
2012, Visual neuroscience, 29, 211-7, 22874131

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An improved likelihood ratio test for detecting site-specific functional divergence among clades of protein-coding genes

Weadick CJ, Chang BS
2012, Molecular biology and evolution, 29, 1297-300, 22319160

Molecular evolution of ultraspiracle protein (USP/RXR) in insects

Hult EF, Tobe SS, Chang BS
2011, PloS one, 6, e23416, 21901121

A novel rhodopsin-like gene expressed in zebrafish retina

Morrow JM, Lazic S, Chang BS
2011, Visual neuroscience, 28, 325-35, 21447259

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Influence of codon usage bias on FGLamide-allatostatin mRNA secondary structure

Martínez-Pérez F, Bendena WG, Chang BS, Tobe SS
2011, Peptides, 32, 509-17, 20950662

Duplicate dmbx1 genes regulate progenitor cell cycle and differentiation during zebrafish midbrain and retinal development

Wong L, Weadick CJ, Kuo C, Chang BS, Tropepe V
2010, BMC developmental biology, 10, 100, 20860823

The p1D4-hrGFP II expression vector: a tool for expressing and purifying visual pigments and other G protein-coupled receptors

Morrow JM, Chang BS
2010, Plasmid, 64, 162-9, 20627111

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FGLamide Allatostatin genes in Arthropoda: introns early or late?

Martínez-Pérez F, Bendena WG, Chang BS, Tobe SS
2009, Peptides, 30, 1241-8, 19551917

Molecular evolution of the betagamma lens crystallin superfamily: evidence for a retained ancestral function in gamma N crystallins?

Weadick CJ, Chang BS
2009, Molecular biology and evolution, 26, 1127-42, 19233964

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Reconstruction of ancestral FGLamide-type insect allatostatins: a novel approach to the study of allatostatin function and evolution

Hult EF, Weadick CJ, Chang BS, Tobe SS
2008, Journal of insect physiology, 54, 959-68, 18541257

Endocrine and reproductive differences and genetic divergence in two populations of the cockroach Diploptera punctata

Lenkic LE, Wolfe JM, Chang BS, Tobe SS
2008, Journal of insect physiology, 54, 931-8, 18406421

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Long-wavelength sensitive visual pigments of the guppy (Poecilia reticulata): six opsins expressed in a single individual

Weadick CJ, Chang BS
2007, BMC evolutionary biology, 7 Suppl 1, S11, 17288569

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Short-wavelength sensitive opsin (SWS1) as a new marker for vertebrate phylogenetics

van Hazel I, Santini F, Müller J, Chang BS
2006, BMC evolutionary biology, 6, 97, 17107620

Ancestral reconstruction of the ligand-binding pocket of Family C G protein-coupled receptors

Kuang D, Yao Y, Maclean D, Wang M, Hampson DR, Chang BS
2006, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103, 14050-5, 16966606

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Applications of ancestral protein reconstruction in understanding protein function: GFP-like proteins

Chang BS, Ugalde JA, Matz MV
2005, Methods in enzymology, 395, 652-70, 15865989

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Evolution of coral pigments recreated

Ugalde JA, Chang BS, Matz MV
2004, Science (New York, N.Y.), 305, 1433, 15353795

Resonance Raman analysis of the mechanism of energy storage and chromophore distortion in the primary visual photoproduct

Yan EC, Ganim Z, Kazmi MA, Chang BS, Sakmar TP, Mathies RA
2004, Biochemistry, 43, 10867-76, 15323547

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Ancestral gene reconstruction and synthesis of ancient rhodopsins in the laboratory

Chang BS
2003, Integrative and comparative biology, 43, 500-7, 21680458

Retinal counterion switch in the photoactivation of the G protein-coupled receptor rhodopsin

Yan EC, Kazmi MA, Ganim Z, Hou JM, Pan D, Chang BS, Sakmar TP, Mathies RA
2003, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 100, 9262-7, 12835420

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Recreating a functional ancestral archosaur visual pigment

Chang BS, Jönsson K, Kazmi MA, Donoghue MJ, Sakmar TP
2002, Molecular biology and evolution, 19, 1483-9, 12200476

Function of extracellular loop 2 in rhodopsin: glutamic acid 181 modulates stability and absorption wavelength of metarhodopsin II

Yan EC, Kazmi MA, De S, Chang BS, Seibert C, Marin EP, Mathies RA, Sakmar TP
2002, Biochemistry, 41, 3620-7, 11888278

Synthetic gene technology: applications to ancestral gene reconstruction and structure-function studies of receptors

Chang BS, Kazmi MA, Sakmar TP
2002, Methods in enzymology, 343, 274-94, 11665573

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