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We study venomous animals and their venoms as model systems to address broad and interesting questions in evolutionary biology, ecology, and genetics. Venom, one of nature's most complex biochemical cocktails, has underpinned the evolutionary success of numerous animal lineages. Venom has independently evolved on at least 30 times in animals, and is employed to disrupt the physiological and biochemical processes of predators or prey animals to facilitate the defence or feeding of the venomous animal. Despite this, many venom proteins in unrelated (or distantly related) animals have remarkably acquired the ability to target identical molecular receptors. Thus, venom is an excellent system to understand the mechanisms underlying the origin of novel biochemical functions, the evolution of rapidly evolving proteins with adaptive functions, interspecific and intraspecific competitions, predator-prey co-evolutionary arms races, and the dynamic nature of natural selection.
In the past, my research has unraveled several fascinating aspects of animal venoms, including i) the ‘two-speed’ mode of venom evolution in animals (Sunagar and Moran, 2015); ii) the mechanisms underpinning the origin and diversification of venoms across large evolutionary time (Sunagar, 2013); iii) the highly predictable and parallel molecular evolution of resistance to poisons across the animal kingdom (Ujvari et al 2015); iv) differential selection pressures on toxin domains underpinning neofunctionalization (Brust et al. 2013); v) the biology, evolutionary origin and the genetic basis of development of cnidocytes - the first venom-injecting cells in animals (Sunagar et al. preprint); vi) spatiotemporal variability in venoms (eLife 2018); vii) geographical variability in venoms and its impact on antivenom efficiency (Sunagar et al. 2014); and the origin and evolution of venom and venom delivery systems in basal reptiles (Fry 2013).
See the full list of publications for details.
The major themes of research in the lab include...
Venomics: unraveling venom compositions, potencies, and bioactivities using advance 'omics' technologies, and the underlying ecological and environmental factors influencing them.
Antivenomics: developing cost-effective and efficient next-generation snakebite therapies to save the lives of India's two hundred thousand annual snakebite victims.
Molecular evolution of venom coding genes: understanding the evolutionary dynamics of venom across time and the forces of natural selection that shape animal venoms.
Genomics of venomous animals: understanding the genomic basis of adaptations in venomous animals.
Phylogenetics, population genetics, and phylogeography of venomous animals
Project and field assistants are recruited through individual research grants (details can be found here).
Based on the interview performance and the documents submitted in the application package, Ph.D. candidates are recruited by CES twice a year (May/June and October/November). To appear for the interview, the candidate should have qualified for one of the following national-level entrance exams: UGC/CSIR-NET, GATE ecology, GATE life science, GATE biotechnology or any equivalent national-level exam. The department sets the cut-off for the interview and will conduct two rounds of interview of students who have made the cut-off. Additional details can be found here.
Prospective candidates should contact me with their resume and a brief research statement. Applicants seeking postdoctoral positions could develop proposals with the lab to compete for the prestigious national (e.g., Raman Postdoctoral Fellowship, Wellcome DBT Early Career Fellowship, Fellowships from DBT and DST, etc.) and international (e.g., Marie Curie) postdoctoral research fellowship programs.