Take a look at our paper in TOXINS on rapid expansion of 3FTx family due to diversification of surface exposed residues << Get the paper here >> Three-finger toxins (3FTx) represent one of the most abundantly secreted and potently toxic components of colubrid (Colubridae), elapid (Elapidae) and psammophid (Psammophiinae subfamily of the Lamprophidae) snake venom arsenal. Despite their conserved structural similarity, they perform a diversity of biological functions. Although they are theorised to undergo adaptive evolution, the underlying diversification mechanisms remain elusive. Here, we report the molecular evolution of different 3FTx functional forms and show that positively selected point mutations have driven the rapid evolution and diversification of 3FTx. These diversification events not only correlate with the evolution of advanced venom delivery systems (VDS) in Caenophidia, but in particular the explosive diversification of the clade subsequent to the evolution of a high pressure, hollow-fanged VDS in elapids, highlighting the significant role of these toxins in the evolution of advanced snakes. We show that Type I, II and III α-neurotoxins have evolved with extreme rapidity under the influence of positive selection. We also show that novel Oxyuranus/Pseudonaja Type II forms lacking the apotypic loop-2 stabilising cysteine doublet characteristic of Type II forms are not phylogenetically basal in relation to other Type IIs as previously thought, but are the result of secondary loss of these apotypic cysteines on at least three separate occasions. Not all 3FTxs have evolved rapidly: κ-neurotoxins, which form non-covalently associated heterodimers, have experienced a relatively weaker influence of diversifying selection; while cytotoxic 3FTx, with their functional sites, dispersed over 40% of the molecular surface, have been extremely constrained by negative selection. We show that the a previous theory of 3FTx molecular evolution (termed ASSET) is evolutionarily implausible and cannot account for the considerable variation observed in very short segments of 3FTx. Instead, we propose a theory of Rapid Accumulation of Variations in Exposed Residues (RAVER) to illustrate the significance of point mutations, guided by focal mutagenesis and positive selection in the evolution and diversification of 3FTx.
Take a look at our paper in PNAS describing how several lineages have convergently evolved resistance to toxic cardiac glycosides produced by plants and bufonid toads << Get the paper here >> 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 toad-feeding 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.
Take a look at our paper in PLOS GENETICS on the ‘two-speed’ mode of venom evolution adopted by ancient and young animal lineages << Get the paper here >> Animal venoms are theorized to evolve under the significant influence of positive Darwinian selection in a chemical arms race scenario, where the evolution of venom resistance in prey and the invention of potent venom in the secreting animal exert reciprocal selection pressures. Venom research to date has mainly focused on evolutionarily younger lineages, such as snakes and cone snails, while mostly neglecting ancient clades (e.g., cnidarians, coleoids, spiders and centipedes). By examining genome, venom-gland transcriptome and sequences from the public repositories, we report the molecular evolutionary regimes of several centipede and spider toxin families, which surprisingly accumulated low-levels of sequence variations, despite their long evolutionary histories. Molecular evolutionary assessment of over 3500 nucleotide sequences from 85 toxin families spanning the breadth of the animal kingdom has unraveled a contrasting evolutionary strategy employed by ancient and evolutionarily young clades. We show that the venoms of ancient lineages remarkably evolve under the heavy constraints of negative selection, while toxin families in lineages that originated relatively recently rapidly diversify under the influence of positive selection. We propose that animal venoms mostly employ a ‘two-speed’ mode of evolution, where the major influence of diversifying selection accompanies the earlier stages of ecological specialization (e.g., diet and range expansion) in the evolutionary history of the species–the period of expansion, resulting in the rapid diversification of the venom arsenal, followed by longer periods of purifying selection that preserve the potent toxin pharmacopeia–the period of purification and fixation. However, species in the period of purification may re-enter the period of expansion upon experiencing a major shift in ecology or environment. Thus, we highlight for the first time the significant roles of purifying and episodic selections in shaping animal venoms.