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Genetics. 2015 Jan;199(1):165-76. doi: 10.1534/genetics.114.172437. Epub 2014 Nov 11.

Contrasting modes and tempos of venom expression evolution in two snake species.

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Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306.
Agritoxins, Saint Cloud, Florida 34771.
Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306


Selection is predicted to drive diversification within species and lead to local adaptation, but understanding the mechanistic details underlying this process and thus the genetic basis of adaptive evolution requires the mapping of genotype to phenotype. Venom is complex and involves many genes, but the specialization of the venom gland toward toxin production allows specific transcripts to be correlated with specific toxic proteins, establishing a direct link from genotype to phenotype. To determine the extent of expression variation and identify the processes driving patterns of phenotypic diversity, we constructed genotype-phenotype maps and compared range-wide toxin-protein expression variation for two species of snake with nearly identical ranges: the eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) and the eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius). We detected significant expression variation in C. adamanteus, identified the specific loci associated with population differentiation, and found that loci expressed at all levels contributed to this divergence. Contrary to expectations, we found no expression variation in M. fulvius, suggesting that M. fulvius populations are not locally adapted. Our results not only linked expression variation at specific loci to divergence in a polygenic, complex trait but also have extensive conservation and biomedical implications. C. adamanteus is currently a candidate for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act, and the loss of any major population would result in the irrevocable loss of a unique venom phenotype. The lack of variation in M. fulvius has significant biomedical application because our data will assist in the development of effective antivenom for this species.


Genotype-phenotype map; adaptation; gene expression; snake venom

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