Significance Snake venoms are toxic protein cocktails used for prey capture. To investigate the evolution of these complex biological weapon systems, we sequenced the genome of a venomous snake, the king cobra, and assessed the composition of venom gland expressed genes, small RNAs, and secreted venom proteins. We show that regulatory components of the venom secretory system may have evolved from a pancreatic origin and that venom toxin genes were co-opted by distinct genomic mechanisms. After co-option, toxin genes important for prey capture have massively expanded by gene duplication and evolved under positive selection, resulting in protein neofunctionalization. This diverse and dramatic venom-related genomic response seemingly occurs in response to a coevolutionary arms race between venomous snakes and their prey.
Venom composition within snake species can show considerable geographical variation, an important consideration because bites by conspecific populations may differ in symptomatology and require different treatments. The underlying causes of this phenomenon have never been explained. Here we present evidence that the variation in the venom of the pitviper Calloselasma rhodostoma (Serpentes: Viperidae) is closely associated with its diet. We also evaluated other possible causes of geographic variation in venom using partial Mantel tests and independent contrasts, but rejected both contemporary gene flow (estimated from geographical proximity) and the phylogenetic relationships (assessed by analysis of mitochondrial DNA) among populations as important influences upon venom evolution. As the primary function of viperid venom is to immobilize and digest prey and prey animals vary in their susceptibility to venom, we suggest that geographical variation in venom composition reflects natural selection for feeding on local prey.
Abstract. Animal venom components are of considerable interest to researchers across a wide variety of disciplines, including molecular biology, biochemistry, medicine, and evolutionary genetics. The three-finger family of snake venom peptides is a particularly interesting and biochemically complex group of venom peptides, because they are encoded by a large multigene family and display a diverse array of functional activities. In addition, understanding how this complex and highly varied multigene family evolved is an interesting question to researchers investigating the biochemical diversity of these peptides and their impact on human health. Therefore, the purpose of our study was to investigate the long-term evolutionary patterns exhibited by these snake venom toxins to understand the mechanisms by which they diversified into a large, biochemically diverse, multigene family. Our results show a much greater diversity of family members than was previously known, including a number of subfamilies that did not fall within any previously identified groups with characterized activities. In addition, we found that the long-term evolutionary processes that gave rise to the diversity of three-finger toxins are consistent with the birth-and-death model of multigene family evolution. It is anticipated that this ''three-finger toxin toolkit'' will prove to be useful in providing a clearer picture of the diversity of investigational ligands or potential therapeutics available within this important family.
Variation in venom composition is a ubiquitous phenomenon in snakes and occurs both interspecifically and intraspecifically. Venom variation can have severe outcomes for snakebite victims by rendering the specific antibodies found in antivenoms ineffective against heterologous toxins found in different venoms. The rapid evolutionary expansion of different toxin-encoding gene families in different snake lineages is widely perceived as the main cause of venom variation. However, this view is simplistic and disregards the understudied influence that processes acting on gene transcription and translation may have on the production of the venom proteome. Here, we assess the venom composition of six related viperid snakes and compare interspecific changes in the number of toxin genes, their transcription in the venom gland, and their translation into proteins secreted in venom. Our results reveal that multiple levels of regulation are responsible for generating variation in venom composition between related snake species. We demonstrate that differential levels of toxin transcription, translation, and their posttranslational modification have a substantial impact upon the resulting venom protein mixture. Notably, these processes act to varying extents on different toxin paralogs found in different snakes and are therefore likely to be as important as ancestral gene duplication events for generating compositionally distinct venom proteomes. Our results suggest that these processes may also contribute to altering the toxicity of snake venoms, and we demonstrate how this variability can undermine the treatment of a neglected tropical disease, snakebite.
The processes that drive the evolution of snake venom variability, particularly the role of diet, have been a topic of intense recent research interest. Here, we test whether extensive variation in venom composition in the medically important viper genus Echis is associated with shifts in diet. Examination of stomach and hindgut contents revealed extreme variation between the major clades of Echis in the proportion of arthropod prey consumed. The toxicity (median lethal dose, LD 50 ) of representative Echis venoms to a natural scorpion prey species was found to be strongly associated with the degree of arthropod feeding. Mapping the results onto a novel Echis phylogeny generated from nuclear and mitochondrial sequence data revealed two independent instances of coevolution of venom toxicity and diet. Unlike venom LD 50 , the speed with which venoms incapacitated and killed scorpions was not associated with the degree of arthropod feeding. The prey-specific venom toxicity of arthropod-feeding Echis may thus be adaptive primarily by reducing venom expenditure. Overall, our results provide strong evidence that variation in snake venom composition results from adaptive evolution driven by natural selection for different diets, and underscores the need for a multi-faceted, integrative approach to the study of the causes of venom evolution.
The question about whether evolution is unpredictable and stochastic or intermittently constrained along predictable pathways is the subject of a fundamental debate in biology, in which understanding convergent evolution plays a central role. At the molecular level, documented examples of convergence are rare and limited to occurring within specific taxonomic groups. Here we provide evidence of constrained convergent molecular evolution across the metazoan tree of life. We show that resistance to toxic cardiac glycosides produced by plants and bufonid toads is mediated by similar molecular changes to the sodium-potassium-pump (Na + /K + -ATPase) in insects, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. In toadfeeding reptiles, resistance is conferred by two point mutations that have evolved convergently on four occasions, whereas evidence of a molecular reversal back to the susceptible state in varanid lizards migrating to toad-free areas suggests that toxin resistance is maladaptive in the absence of selection. Importantly, resistance in all taxa is mediated by replacements of 2 of the 12 amino acids comprising the Na + /K + -ATPase H1-H2 extracellular domain that constitutes a core part of the cardiac glycoside binding site. We provide mechanistic insight into the basis of resistance by showing that these alterations perturb the interaction between the cardiac glycoside bufalin and the Na + /K + -ATPase. Thus, similar selection pressures have resulted in convergent evolution of the same molecular solution across the breadth of the animal kingdom, demonstrating how a scarcity of possible solutions to a selective challenge can lead to highly predictable evolutionary responses.constraint | parallelism | genotype phenotype | ion transporters | bufotoxin cardenolide
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