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  1. Abstract Background

    Snakes exhibit extreme intestinal regeneration following months-long fasts that involves unparalleled increases in metabolism, function, and tissue growth, but the specific molecular control of this process is unknown. Understanding the mechanisms that coordinate these regenerative phenotypes provides valuable opportunities to understand critical pathways that may control vertebrate regeneration and novel perspectives on vertebrate regenerative capacities.


    Here, we integrate a comprehensive set of phenotypic, transcriptomic, proteomic, and phosphoproteomic data from boa constrictors to identify the mechanisms that orchestrate shifts in metabolism, nutrient uptake, and cellular stress to direct phases of the regenerative response. We identify specific temporal patterns of metabolic, stress response, and growth pathway activation that direct regeneration and provide evidence for multiple key central regulatory molecules kinases that integrate these signals, including major conserved pathways like mTOR signaling and the unfolded protein response.


    Collectively, our results identify a novel switch-like role of stress responses in intestinal regeneration that forms a primary regulatory hub facilitating organ regeneration and could point to potential pathways to understand regenerative capacity in vertebrates.

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  2. Abstract

    The study of recently diverged lineages whose geographical ranges come into contact can provide insight into the early stages of speciation and the potential roles of reproductive isolation in generating and maintaining species. Such insight can also be important for understanding the strategies and challenges for delimiting species within recently diverged species complexes. Here, we use mitochondrial and nuclear genetic data to study population structure, gene flow and demographic history across a geographically widespread rattlesnake clade, the western rattlesnake species complex (Crotalus cerberus, Crotalus viridis, Crotalus oreganus and relatives), which contains multiple lineages with ranges that overlap geographically or contact one another. We find evidence that the evolutionary history of this group does not conform to a bifurcating tree model and that pervasive gene flow has broadly influenced patterns of present-day genetic diversity. Our results suggest that lineage diversity has been shaped largely by drift and divergent selection in isolation, followed by secondary contact, in which reproductive isolating mechanisms appear weak and insufficient to prevent introgression, even between anciently diverged lineages. The complexity of divergence and secondary contact with gene flow among lineages also provides new context for why delimiting species within this complex has been difficult and contentious historically.

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  3. Abstract

    Invasive species provide powerful in situ experimental systems for studying evolution in response to selective pressures in novel habitats. While research has shown that phenotypic evolution can occur rapidly in nature, few examples exist of genomewide adaptation on short “ecological” timescales. Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) have become a successful and impactful invasive species in Florida over the last 30 years despite major freeze events that caused high python mortality. We sampled Florida Burmese pythons before and after a major freeze event in 2010 and found evidence for directional selection in genomic regions enriched for genes associated with thermosensation, behaviour and physiology. Several of these genes are linked to regenerative organ growth, an adaptive response that modulates organ size and function with feeding and fasting in pythons. Independent histological and functional genomic data sets provide additional layers of support for a contemporary shift in invasive Burmese python physiology. In the Florida population, a shift towards maintaining an active digestive system may be driven by the fitness benefits of maintaining higher metabolic rates and body temperature during freeze events. Our results suggest that a synergistic interaction between ecological and climatic selection pressures has driven adaptation in Florida Burmese pythons, demonstrating the often‐overlooked potential of rapid adaptation to influence the success of invasive species.

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  4. Schaack, Sarah (Ed.)
    Abstract Sex chromosomes diverge after the establishment of recombination suppression, resulting in differential sex-linkage of genes involved in genetic sex determination and dimorphic traits. This process produces systems of male or female heterogamety wherein the Y and W chromosomes are only present in one sex and are often highly degenerated. Sex-limited Y and W chromosomes contain valuable information about the evolutionary transition from autosomes to sex chromosomes, yet detailed characterizations of the structure, composition, and gene content of sex-limited chromosomes are lacking for many species. In this study, we characterize the female-specific W chromosome of the prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) and evaluate how recombination suppression and other processes have shaped sex chromosome evolution in ZW snakes. Our analyses indicate that the rattlesnake W chromosome is over 80% repetitive and that an abundance of GC-rich mdg4 elements has driven an overall high degree of GC-richness despite a lack of recombination. The W chromosome is also highly enriched for repeat sequences derived from endogenous retroviruses and likely acts as a “refugium” for these and other retroelements. We annotated 219 putatively functional W-linked genes across at least two evolutionary strata identified based on estimates of sequence divergence between Z and W gametologs. The youngest of these strata is relatively gene-rich, however gene expression across strata suggests retained gene function amidst a greater degree of degeneration following ancient recombination suppression. Functional annotation of W-linked genes indicates a specialization of the W chromosome for reproductive and developmental function since recombination suppression from the Z chromosome. 
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  5. Understanding how regulatory mechanisms evolve is critical for understanding the processes that give rise to novel phenotypes. Snake venom systems represent a valuable and tractable model for testing hypotheses related to the evolution of novel regulatory networks, yet the regulatory mechanisms underlying venom production remain poorly understood. Here, we use functional genomics approaches to investigate venom regulatory architecture in the prairie rattlesnake and identify cis -regulatory sequences (enhancers and promoters), trans -regulatory transcription factors, and integrated signaling cascades involved in the regulation of snake venom genes. We find evidence that two conserved vertebrate pathways, the extracellular signal-regulated kinase and unfolded protein response pathways, were co-opted to regulate snake venom. In one large venom gene family (snake venom serine proteases), this co-option was likely facilitated by the activity of transposable elements. Patterns of snake venom gene enhancer conservation, in some cases spanning 50 million yr of lineage divergence, highlight early origins and subsequent lineage-specific adaptations that have accompanied the evolution of venom regulatory architecture. We also identify features of chromatin structure involved in venom regulation, including topologically associated domains and CTCF loops that underscore the potential importance of novel chromatin structure to coevolve when duplicated genes evolve new regulatory control. Our findings provide a model for understanding how novel regulatory systems may evolve through a combination of genomic processes, including tandem duplication of genes and regulatory sequences, cis -regulatory sequence seeding by transposable elements, and diverse transcriptional regulatory proteins controlled by a co-opted regulatory cascade. 
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  6. 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 differences 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. 
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