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  1. Coevolution is common and frequently governs host–pathogen interaction outcomes. Phenotypes underlying these interactions often manifest as the combined products of the genomes of interacting species, yet traditional quantitative trait mapping approaches ignore these intergenomic interactions. Devil facial tumor disease (DFTD), an infectious cancer afflicting Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii), has decimated devil populations due to universal host susceptibility and a fatality rate approaching 100%. Here, we used a recently developed joint genome-wide association study (i.e., co-GWAS) approach, 15 y of mark-recapture data, and 960 genomes to identify intergenomic signatures of coevolution between devils and DFTD. Using a traditional GWA approach, we found that both devil and DFTD genomes explained a substantial proportion of variance in how quickly susceptible devils became infected, although genomic architectures differed across devils and DFTD; the devil genome had fewer loci of large effect whereas the DFTD genome had a more polygenic architecture. Using a co-GWA approach, devil–DFTD intergenomic interactions explained ~3× more variation in how quickly susceptible devils became infected than either genome alone, and the top genotype-by-genotype interactions were significantly enriched for cancer genes and signatures of selection. A devil regulatory mutation was associated with differential expression of a candidate cancer gene and showed putative allele matching effects with two DFTD coding sequence variants. Our results highlight the need to account for intergenomic interactions when investigating host–pathogen (co)evolution and emphasize the importance of such interactions when considering devil management strategies.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 19, 2025
  2. Ecologically divergent selection can lead to the evolution of reproductive isolation through the process of ecological speciation, but the balance of responsible evolutionary forces is often obscured by an inadequate assessment of demographic history and the genetics of traits under selection. Snake venoms have emerged as a system for studying the genetic basis of adaptation because of their genetic tractability and contributions to fitness, and speciation in venomous snakes can be associated with ecological diversification such as dietary shifts and corresponding venom changes. Here, we explored the neurotoxic (type A)–hemotoxic (type B) venom dichotomy and the potential for ecological speciation among Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) populations. Previous work identified the genetic basis of this phenotypic difference, enabling us to characterize the roles geography, history, ecology, selection, and chance play in determining when and why new species emerge or are absorbed. We identified significant genetic, proteomic, morphological, and ecological/environmental differences at smaller spatial scales, suggestive of incipient ecological speciation between type A and type B C. horridus. Range-wide analyses, however, rejected the reciprocal monophyly of venom type, indicative of varying intensities of introgression and a lack of reproductive isolation across the range. Given that we have now established the phenotypic distributions and ecological niche models of type A and B populations, genome-wide data are needed and capable of determining whether type A and type B C. horridus represent distinct, reproductively isolated lineages due to incipient ecological speciation or differentiated populations within a single species. 
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  3. Abstract Background Transmissible cancers lie at the intersection of oncology and infectious disease, two traditionally divergent fields for which gene expression studies are particularly useful for identifying the molecular basis of phenotypic variation. In oncology, transcriptomics studies, which characterize the expression of thousands of genes, have identified processes leading to heterogeneity in cancer phenotypes and individual prognoses. More generally, transcriptomics studies of infectious diseases characterize interactions between host, pathogen, and environment to better predict population-level outcomes. Tasmanian devils have been impacted dramatically by a transmissible cancer (devil facial tumor disease; DFTD) that has led to widespread population declines. Despite initial predictions of extinction, populations have persisted at low levels, due in part to heterogeneity in host responses, particularly between sexes. However, the processes underlying this variation remain unknown. Results We sequenced transcriptomes from healthy and DFTD-infected devils, as well as DFTD tumors, to characterize host responses to DFTD infection, identify differing host-tumor molecular interactions between sexes, and investigate the extent to which tumor gene expression varies among host populations. We found minimal variation in gene expression of devil lip tissues, either with respect to DFTD infection status or sex. However, 4088 genes were differentially expressed in tumors among our sampling localities. Pathways that were up- or downregulated in DFTD tumors relative to normal tissues exhibited the same patterns of expression with greater intensity in tumors from localities that experienced DFTD for longer. No mRNA sequence variants were associated with expression variation. Conclusions Expression variation among localities may reflect morphological differences in tumors that alter ratios of normal-to-tumor cells within biopsies. Phenotypic variation in tumors may arise from environmental variation or differences in host immune response that were undetectable in lip biopsies, potentially reflecting variation in host-tumor coevolutionary relationships among sites that differ in the time since DFTD arrival. 
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    Abstract The migration-selection balance often governs the evolution of lineages, and speciation with gene flow is now considered common across the tree of life. Ecological speciation is a process that can facilitate divergence despite gene flow due to strong selective pressures caused by ecological differences; however, the exact traits under selection are often unknown. The transition from freshwater to saltwater habitats provides strong selection targeting traits with osmoregulatory function. Several lineages of North American watersnakes (Nerodia spp.) are known to occur in saltwater habitat and represent a useful system for studying speciation by providing an opportunity to investigate gene flow and evaluate how species boundaries are maintained or degraded. We use double digest restriction-site associated DNA sequencing to characterize the migration-selection balance and test for evidence of ecological divergence within the Nerodia fasciata-clarkii complex in Florida. We find evidence of high intraspecific gene flow with a pattern of isolation-by-distance underlying subspecific lineages. However, we identify genetic structure indicative of reduced gene flow between inland and coastal lineages suggesting divergence due to isolation-by-environment. This pattern is consistent with observed environmental differences where the amount of admixture decreases with increased salinity. Furthermore, we identify significantly enriched terms related to osmoregulatory function among a set of candidate loci, including several genes that have been previously implicated in adaptation to salinity stress. Collectively, our results demonstrate that ecological differences, likely driven by salinity, cause strong divergent selection which promotes divergence in the N. fasciata-clarkii complex despite significant gene flow. 
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    Ontogenetic shifts in venom occur in many snakes but establishing their nature as gradual or discrete processes required additional study. We profiled shifts in venom expression from the neonate to adult sizes of two rattlesnake species, the eastern diamondback and the timber rattlesnake. We used serial sampling and venom chromatographic profiling to test if ontogenetic change occurs gradually or discretely. We found evidence for gradual shifts in overall venom composition in six of eight snakes, which sometimes spanned more than two years. Most chromatographic peaks shift gradually, but one quarter shift in a discrete fashion. Analysis of published diet data showed gradual shifts in overall diet composition across the range of body sizes attained by our eight study animals, while the shifts in abundance of different prey classes varied in form from gradual to discrete. Testosterone concentrations were correlated with the change in venom protein composition, but the relationship is not strong enough to suggest causation. Venom research employing simple juvenile versus adult size thresholds may be failing to account for continuous variation in venom composition lifespan. Our results imply that venom shifts represent adaptive matches to dietary shifts and highlight venom for studies of alternative gene regulatory mechanisms. 
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  7. Emerging infectious diseases pose one of the greatest threats to human health and biodiversity. Phylodynamics is often used to infer epidemiological parameters essential for guiding intervention strategies for human viruses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-Cov-2). Here, we applied phylodynamics to elucidate the epidemiological dynamics of Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease (DFTD), a fatal, transmissible cancer with a genome thousands of times larger than that of any virus. Despite prior predictions of devil extinction, transmission rates have declined precipitously from ~3.5 secondary infections per infected individual to ~1 at present. Thus, DFTD appears to be transitioning from emergence to endemism, lending hope for the continued survival of the endangered Tasmanian devil. More generally, our study demonstrates a new phylodynamic analytical framework that can be applied to virtually any pathogen. 
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  8. Variation in gene regulation is ubiquitous, yet identifying the mechanisms producing such variation, especially for complex traits, is challenging. Snake venoms provide a model system for studying the phenotypic impacts of regulatory variation in complex traits because of their genetic tractability. Here, we sequence the genome of the Tiger Rattlesnake, which possesses the simplest and most toxic venom of any rattlesnake species, to determine whether the simple venom phenotype is the result of a simple genotype through gene loss or a complex genotype mediated through regulatory mechanisms. We generate the most contiguous snake-genome assembly to date and use this genome to show that gene loss, chromatin accessibility, and methylation levels all contribute to the production of the simplest, most toxic rattlesnake venom. We provide the most complete characterization of the venom gene-regulatory network to date and identify key mechanisms mediating phenotypic variation across a polygenic regulatory network.

     
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