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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. Yoder, Anne (Ed.)
    Abstract Understanding the joint roles of protein sequence variation and differential expression during adaptive evolution is a fundamental, yet largely unrealized goal of evolutionary biology. Here, we use phylogenetic path analysis to analyze a comprehensive venom-gland transcriptome dataset spanning three genera of pitvipers to identify the functional genetic basis of a key adaptation (venom complexity) linked to diet breadth (DB). The analysis of gene-family-specific patterns reveals that, for genes encoding two of the most important venom proteins (snake venom metalloproteases and snake venom serine proteases), there are direct, positive relationships between sequence diversity (SD), expression diversity (ED), and increased DB. Further analysis of gene-family diversification for these proteins showed no constraint on how individual lineages achieved toxin gene SD in terms of the patterns of paralog diversification. In contrast, another major venom protein family (PLA2s) showed no relationship between venom molecular diversity and DB. Additional analyses suggest that other molecular mechanisms—such as higher absolute levels of expression—are responsible for diet adaptation involving these venom proteins. Broadly, our findings argue that functional diversity generated through sequence and expression variations jointly determine adaptation in the key components of pitviper venoms, which mediate complex molecular interactions between the snakes and their prey. 
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  3. Traits for prey acquisition form the phenotypic interface of predator–prey interactions. In venomous predators, morphological variation in venom delivery apparatus like fangs and stingers may be optimized for dispatching prey. Here, we determine how a single dimension of venom injection systems evolves in response to variation in the size, climatic conditions and dietary ecology of viperid snakes. We measured fang length in more than 1900 museum specimens representing 199 viper species (55% of recognized species). We find both phylogenetic signal and within-clade variation in relative fang length across vipers suggesting both general taxonomic trends and potential adaptive divergence in fang length. We recover positive evolutionary allometry and little static allometry in fang length. Proportionally longer fangs have evolved in larger species, which may facilitate venom injection in more voluminous prey. Finally, we leverage climatic and diet data to assess the global correlates of fang length. We find that models of fang length evolution are improved through the inclusion of both temperature and diet, particularly the extent to which diets are mammal-heavy diets. These findings demonstrate how adaptive variation can emerge among components of complex prey capture systems. 
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  4. Qian, Wenfeng (Ed.)
    Abstract Despite the medical significance to humans and important ecological roles filled by vipers, few high-quality genomic resources exist for these snakes outside of a few genera of pitvipers. Here we sequence, assemble, and annotate the genome of Fea’s Viper (Azemiops feae). This taxon is distributed in East Asia and belongs to a monotypic subfamily, sister to the pitvipers. The newly sequenced genome resulted in a 1.56 Gb assembly, a contig N50 of 1.59 Mb, with 97.6% of the genome assembly in contigs >50 Kb, and a BUSCO completeness of 92.4%. We found that A. feae venom is primarily composed of phospholipase A2 (PLA2) proteins expressed by genes that likely arose from lineage-specific PLA2 gene duplications. Additionally, we show that renin, an enzyme associated with blood pressure regulation in mammals and known from the venoms of two viper species including A. feae, is expressed in the venom gland at comparative levels to known toxins and is present in the venom proteome. The cooption of this gene as a toxin may be more widespread in viperids than currently known. To investigate the historical population demographics of A. feae, we performed coalescent-based analyses and determined that the effective population size has remained stable over the last 100 kyr. This suggests Quaternary glacial cycles likely had minimal influence on the demographic history of A. feae. This newly assembled genome will be an important resource for studying the genomic basis of phenotypic evolution and understanding the diversification of venom toxin gene families. 
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  5. Abstract

    Beyond providing critical information to biologists, species distributions are useful for naturalists, curious citizens, and applied disciplines including conservation planning and medical intervention. Venomous snakes are one group that highlight the importance of having accurate information given their cosmopolitan distribution and medical significance. Envenomation by snakebite is considered a neglected tropical disease by the World Health Organization and venomous snake distributions are used to assess vulnerability to snakebite based on species occurrence and antivenom/healthcare accessibility. However, recent studies highlighted the need for updated fine-scale distributions of venomous snakes. Pitvipers (Viperidae: Crotalinae) are responsible for >98% of snakebites in the New World. Therefore, to begin to address the need for updated fine-scale distributions, we created VenomMaps, a database and web application containing updated distribution maps and species distribution models for all species of New World pitvipers. With these distributions, biologists can better understand the biogeography and conservation status of this group, researchers can better assess vulnerability to snakebite, and medical professionals can easily discern species found in their area.

     
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  6. null (Ed.)
    The venoms of small rear-fanged snakes (RFS) remain largely unexplored, despite increased recognition of their importance in understanding venom evolution more broadly. Sequencing the transcriptome of venom-producing glands has greatly increased the ability of researchers to examine and characterize the toxin repertoire of small taxa with low venom yields. Here, we use RNA-seq to characterize the Duvernoy’s gland transcriptome of the Plains Black-headed Snake, Tantilla nigriceps, a small, semi-fossorial colubrid that feeds on a variety of potentially dangerous arthropods including centipedes and spiders. We generated transcriptomes of six individuals from three localities in order to both characterize the toxin expression of this species for the first time, and to look for initial evidence of venom variation in the species. Three toxin families—three-finger neurotoxins (3FTxs), cysteine-rich secretory proteins (CRISPs), and snake venom metalloproteinases (SVMPIIIs)—dominated the transcriptome of T. nigriceps; 3FTx themselves were the dominant toxin family in most individuals, accounting for as much as 86.4% of an individual’s toxin expression. Variation in toxin expression between individuals was also noted, with two specimens exhibiting higher relative expression of c-type lectins than any other sample (8.7–11.9% compared to <1%), and another expressed CRISPs higher than any other toxin. This study provides the first Duvernoy’s gland transcriptomes of any species of Tantilla, and one of the few transcriptomic studies of RFS not predicated on a single individual. This initial characterization demonstrates the need for further study of toxin expression variation in this species, as well as the need for further exploration of small RFS venoms. 
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  7. null (Ed.)
    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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  8. True, John (Ed.)
    Abstract Novel phenotypes are commonly associated with gene duplications and neofunctionalization, less documented are the cases of phenotypic maintenance through the recruitment of novel genes. Proteolysis is the primary toxic character of many snake venoms, and ADAM metalloproteinases, named snake venom metalloproteinases (SVMPs), are largely recognized as the major effectors of this phenotype. However, by investigating original transcriptomes from 58 species of advanced snakes (Caenophidia) across their phylogeny, we discovered that a different enzyme, matrix metalloproteinase (MMP), is actually the dominant venom component in three tribes (Tachymenini, Xenodontini, and Conophiini) of rear-fanged snakes (Dipsadidae). Proteomic and functional analyses of these venoms further indicate that MMPs are likely playing an “SVMP-like” function in the proteolytic phenotype. A detailed look into the venom-specific sequences revealed a new highly expressed MMP subtype, named snake venom MMP (svMMP), which originated independently on at least three occasions from an endogenous MMP-9. We further show that by losing ancillary noncatalytic domains present in its ancestors, svMMPs followed an evolutionary path toward a simplified structure during their expansion in the genomes, thus paralleling what has been proposed for the evolution of their Viperidae counterparts, the SVMPs. Moreover, we inferred an inverse relationship between the expression of svMMPs and SVMPs along the evolutionary history of Xenodontinae, pointing out that one type of enzyme may be substituting for the other, whereas the general (metallo)proteolytic phenotype is maintained. These results provide rare evidence on how relevant phenotypic traits can be optimized via natural selection on nonhomologous genes, yielding alternate biochemical components. 
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