Targeted Sequencing of Venom Genes from Cone Snail Genomes Improves Understanding of Conotoxin Molecular Evolution

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Abstract

To expand our capacity to discover venom sequences from the genomes of venomous organisms, we applied targeted sequencing techniques to selectively recover venom gene superfamilies and nontoxin loci from the genomes of 32 cone snail species (family, Conidae), a diverse group of marine gastropods that capture their prey using a cocktail of neurotoxic peptides (conotoxins). We were able to successfully recover conotoxin gene superfamilies across all species with high confidence (> 100× coverage) and used these data to provide new insights into conotoxin evolution. First, we found that conotoxin gene superfamilies are composed of one to six exons and are typically short in length (mean = ˜85 bp). Second, we expanded our understanding of the following genetic features of conotoxin evolution: 1)positive selection, where exons coding the mature toxin region were often three times more divergent than their adjacent noncoding regions, 2)expression regulation, with comparisons to transcriptome data showing that cone snails only express a fraction of the genes available in their genome (24-63%), and 3)extensive gene turnover, where Conidae species varied from 120 to 859 conotoxin gene copies. Finally, using comparative phylogenetic methods, we found that while diet specificity did not predict patterns of conotoxin evolution, dietary breadth was positively correlated with total conotoxin gene diversity. Overall, the targeted sequencing technique demonstrated here has the potential to radically increase the pace at which venom gene families are sequenced and studied, reshaping our ability to understand the impact of genetic changes on ecologically relevant phenotypes and subsequent diversification.

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