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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Aug 11;106(32):13415-20. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0901224106. Epub 2009 Jul 28.

The evolutionary origins of beneficial alleles during the repeated adaptation of garter snakes to deadly prey.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322-5305, USA.


Where do the genetic variants underlying adaptive change come from? Are currently adaptive alleles recruited by selection from standing genetic variation within populations, moved through introgression from other populations, or do they arise as novel mutations? Here, we examine the molecular basis of repeated adaptation to the toxin of deadly prey in 3 species of garter snakes (Thamnophis) to determine whether adaptation has evolved through novel mutations, sieving of existing variation, or transmission of beneficial alleles across species. Functional amino acid substitutions in the skeletal muscle sodium channel (Na(v)1.4) are largely responsible for the physiological resistance of garter snakes to tetrodotoxin found in their newt (Taricha) prey. Phylogenetic analyses reject the hypotheses that the unique resistance alleles observed in multiple Thamnophis species were present before the split of these lineages, or that alleles were shared among species through occasional hybridization events. Our results demonstrate that adaptive evolution has occurred independently multiple times in garter snakes via the de novo acquisition of beneficial mutations.

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