Evolution of hearing is a fascinating topic. Here are some websites to start with.
It is a highly informative website describing both inner ear and lateral lines.
The bodies of fish have approximately the same density as water, so sound passes right through their bodies, which move in concert with the traveling sound wave. Fish have bones in the inner ear, called otoliths, which are much denser than water and the fish’s body. As a result, these ear bones move more slowly in response to sound waves than does the rest of the fish. The difference between the motion of the fish body and the otoliths bend or displace the cilia on the hair cells that are located in the inner ear. This differential movement between the sensory cells and the otolith is interpreted by the brain as sound. Otoliths are made of calcium carbonate and their size and shape is highly variable among species.
The following site primarily deals with inner ear development in humans, but also has information on fish and other species.
Review papers -
The development and evolution of mechanosensory cells and the vertebrate ear is reviewed with an emphasis on delineating the cellular, molecular and developmental basis of these changes. Outgroup comparisons suggests that mechanosensory cells are ancient features of multicellular organisms. Molecular evidence suggests that key genes involved in mechanosensory cell function and development are also conserved among metazoans. The divergent morphology of mechanosensory cells across phyla is interpreted here as deep molecular homology that was in parallel shaped into different forms in each lineage. The vertebrate mechanosensory hair cell and its associated neuron are interpreted as uniquely derived features of vertebrates. It is proposed that the vertebrate otic placode presents a unique embryonic adaptation in which the diffusely distributed ancestral mechanosensory cells became concentrated to generate a large neurosensory precursor population. Morphogenesis of the inner ear is reviewed and shown to depend on genes expressed in and around the hindbrain that interact with the otic placode to define boundaries and polarities. These patterning genes affect downstream genes needed to maintain proliferation and to execute ear morphogenesis. We propose that fibroblast growth factors (FGFs) and their receptors (FGFRs) are a crucial central node to translate patterning into the complex morphology of the vertebrate ear. Unfortunately, the FGF and FGFR genes have not been fully analyzed in the many mutants with morphogenetic ear defects described thus far. Likewise, little information exists on the ear histogenesis and neurogenesis in many mutants. Nevertheless, a molecular mechanism is now emerging for the formation of the horizontal canal, an evolutionary novelty of the gnathostome ear. The existing general module mediating vertical canal growth and morphogenesis was modified by two sets of new genes: one set responsible for horizontal canal morphogenesis and another set for neurosensory formation of the horizontal crista and associated sensory neurons. The dramatic progress in deciphering the molecular basis of ear morphogenesis offers grounds for optimism for translational research toward intervention in human morphogenetic defects of the ear.
Generating the diversity of cell types in the inner ear may require an interplay between regional compartmentalization and local cellular interactions. Recent evidence has come from gene targeting, lineage analysis, fate mapping and gene expression studies. Notch signaling and neurogenic gene regulation are involved in patterning or specification of sensory organs, ganglion cells and hair cell mechanoreceptors.
This review outlines major aspects of development and evolution of the ear, specifically addressing issues of cell fate commitment and the emerging molecular governance of these decisions. Available data support the notion of homology of subsets of mechanosensors across phyla (proprioreceptive mechanosensory neurons in insects, hair cells in vertebrates). It is argued that this conservation is primarily related to the specific transducing environment needed to achieve mechanosensation. Achieving this requires highly conserved transcription factors that regulate the expression of the relevant structural genes for mechanosensory transduction. While conserved at the level of some cell fate assignment genes (atonal and its mammalian homologue), the ear has also radically reorganized its development by implementing genes used for cell fate assignment in other parts of the developing nervous systems (e.g., neurogenin 1) and by evolving novel sets of genes specifically associated with the novel formation of sensory neurons that contact hair cells (neurotrophins and their receptors). Numerous genes have been identified that regulate morphogenesis, but there is only one common feature that emerges at the moment: the ear appears to have co-opted genes from a large variety of other parts of the developing body (forebrain, limbs, kidneys) and establishes, in combination with existing transcription factors, an environment in which those genes govern novel, ear-related morphogenetic aspects. The ear thus represents a unique mix of highly conserved developmental elements combined with co-opted and newly evolved developmental elements.
The inner ear is a complex sensory organ responsible for balance and sound detection in vertebrates. It originates from a transient embryonic structure, the otic vesicle, that contains all of the information to develop autonomously into the mature inner ear. We review here the development of the otic vesicle, bringing together classical embryological experiments and recent genetic and molecular data. The specification of the prospective ectoderm and its commitment to the otic fate are very early events and can be related to the expression of genes with restricted expression domains. A combinatorial gene expression model for placode specification and diversification, based on classical embryological evidence and gene expression patterns, is discussed. The formation of the otic vesicle is dependent on inducing signals from endoderm, mesoderm and neuroectoderm. Ear induction consists of a sequence of discrete instructions from those tissues that confer its final identity on the otic field, rather than a single all-or-none process. The important role of the neural tube in otic development is highlighted by the abnormalities observed in mouse mutants for the Hoxa1, kreisler and fgf3 genes and those reported in retinoic acid-deficient quails. Still, the nature of the relation between the neural tube and otic development remains unclear. Gene targeting experiments in the mouse have provided evidence for genes potentially involved in regional and cell-fate specification in the inner ear. The disruption of the mouse Brn3.1 gene identifies the first mutation affecting sensory hair- cell specification, and mutants for Pax2 and Nkx5.1 genes show their requirement for the development of specific regions of the otic vesicle. Several growth-factors contribute to the patterned cell proliferation of the otic vesicle. Among these, IGF-I and FGF-2 are expressed in the otic vesicle and may act in an autocrine manner. Finally, little is known about early mechanisms involved in guiding ear innervation. However, targeted disruption of genes coding for neurotrophins and Trk receptors have shown that once synaptic contacts are established, they depend on specific trophic interactions that involve these two gene families. The accessibility of new cellular and molecular approaches are opening new perspectives in vertebrate development and are also starting to be applied to ear development. This will allow this classical and attractive model system to see a rapid progress in the near future.