skip to main content

Search for: All records

Creators/Authors contains: "Mackessy, Stephen P."

Note: When clicking on a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) number, you will be taken to an external site maintained by the publisher. Some full text articles may not yet be available without a charge during the embargo (administrative interval).
What is a DOI Number?

Some links on this page may take you to non-federal websites. Their policies may differ from this site.

  1. ABSTRACT The venom glands of reptiles, particularly those of front-fanged advanced snakes, must satisfy conflicting biological demands: rapid synthesis of potentially labile and highly toxic proteins, storage in the gland lumen for long periods, stabilization of the stored secretions, immediate activation of toxins upon deployment and protection of the animal from the toxic effects of its own venom. This dynamic system could serve as a model for the study of a variety of different phenomena involving exocrine gland activation, protein synthesis, stabilization of protein products and secretory mechanisms. However, these studies have been hampered by a lack of a long-term model that can be propagated in the lab (as opposed to whole-animal studies). Numerous attempts have been made to extend the lifetime of venom gland secretory cells, but only recently has an organoid model been shown to have the requisite qualities of recapitulation of the native system, self-propagation and long-term viability (>1 year). A tractable model is now available for myriad cell- and molecular-level studies of venom glands, protein synthesis and secretion. However, venom glands of reptiles are not identical, and many differ very extensively in overall architecture, microanatomy and protein products produced. This Review summarizes the similarities among and differencesmore »between venom glands of helodermatid lizards and of rear-fanged and front-fanged snakes, highlighting those areas that are well understood and identifying areas where future studies can fill in significant gaps in knowledge of these ancient, yet fascinating systems.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2023
  2. Abstract Male-biased mutation rates occur in a diverse array of organisms. The ratio of male-to-female mutation rate may have major ramifications for evolution across the genome, and for sex-linked genes in particular. In ZW species, the Z chromosome is carried by males two-thirds of the time, leading to the prediction that male-biased mutation rates will have a disproportionate effect on the evolution of Z-linked genes relative to autosomes and the W chromosome. Colubroid snakes (including colubrids, elapids, and viperids) have ZW sex determination, yet male-biased mutation rates have not been well studied in this group. Here we analyze a population genomic dataset from rattlesnakes to quantify genetic variation within and genetic divergence between species. We use a new method for unbiased estimation of population genetic summary statistics to compare variation between the Z chromosome and autosomes and to calculate net nucleotide differentiation between species. We find evidence for a 2.03-fold greater mutation rate in male rattlesnakes relative to females, corresponding to an average μZ/μA ratio of 1.1. Our results from snakes are quantitatively similar to birds, suggesting that male-biased mutation rates may be a common feature across vertebrate lineages with ZW sex determination.
  3. Abstract Despite the extensive body of research on snake venom, many facets of snake venom systems, such as the physiology and regulation of the venom gland itself, remain virtually unstudied. Here, we use time series gene expression analyses of the rattlesnake venom gland in comparison with several non-venom tissues to characterize physiological and cellular processes associated with venom production and to highlight key distinctions of venom gland cellular and physiological function. We find consistent evidence for activation of stress response pathways in the venom gland, suggesting that mitigation of cellular stress is a crucial component of venom production. Additionally, we demonstrate evidence for an unappreciated degree of cellular and secretory activity in the steady state venom gland relative to other secretory tissues and identify vacuolar ATPases as the likely mechanisms driving acidification of the venom gland lumen during venom production and storage.
  4. Abstract Meiotic recombination in vertebrates is concentrated in hotspots throughout the genome. The location and stability of hotspots have been linked to the presence or absence of PRDM9, leading to two primary models for hotspot evolution derived from mammals and birds. Species with PRDM9-directed recombination have rapid turnover of hotspots concentrated in intergenic regions (i.e., mammals), whereas hotspots in species lacking PRDM9 are concentrated in functional regions and have greater stability over time (i.e., birds). Snakes possess PRDM9, yet virtually nothing is known about snake recombination. Here, we examine the recombination landscape and test hypotheses about the roles of PRDM9 in rattlesnakes. We find substantial variation in recombination rate within and among snake chromosomes, and positive correlations between recombination rate and gene density, GC content, and genetic diversity. Like mammals, snakes appear to have a functional and active PRDM9, but rather than being directed away from genes, snake hotspots are concentrated in promoters and functional regions—a pattern previously associated only with species that lack a functional PRDM9. Snakes therefore provide a unique example of recombination landscapes in which PRDM9 is functional, yet recombination hotspots are associated with functional genic regions—a combination of features that defy existing paradigms for recombination landscapesmore »in vertebrates. Our findings also provide evidence that high recombination rates are a shared feature of vertebrate microchromosomes. Our results challenge previous assumptions about the adaptive role of PRDM9 and highlight the diversity of recombination landscape features among vertebrate lineages.« less
  5. The Mohave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus) is a highly venomous pitviper inhabiting the arid interior deserts, grasslands, and savannas of western North America. Currently two subspecies are recognized: the Northern Mohave Rattlesnake (C. s. scutulatus) ranging from southern California to the southern Central Mexican Plateau, and the Huamantla Rattlesnake (C. s. salvini) from the region of Tlaxcala, Veracruz, and Puebla in south-central Mexico. Although recent studies have demonstrated extensive geographic variation in venom composition and cryptic genetic diversity in this species, no modern studies have focused on geographic variation in morphology. Here we analyzed a series of qualitative, meristic, and morphometric traits from 347 specimens of C. scutulatus and show that this species is phenotypically cohesive without discrete subgroups, and that morphology follows a continuous cline in primarily color pattern and meristic traits across the major axis of its expansive distribution. Interpreted in the context of previously published molecular evidence, our morphological analyses suggest that multiple episodes of isolation and secondary contact among metapopulations during the Pleistocene were sufficient to produce distinctive genetic populations, which have since experienced gene flow to produce clinal variation in phenotypes without discrete or diagnosable distinctions among these original populations. For taxonomic purposes, we recommend thatmore »C. scutulatus be retained as a single species, although it is possible that C. s. salvini, which is morphologically the most distinctive population, could represent a peripheral isolate in the initial stages of speciation.« less