Venom-gland transcriptomics and venom proteomics of the black-back scorpion (Hadrurus spadix) reveal detectability challenges and an unexplored realm of animal toxin diversity

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The order Scorpiones is one of the most ancient and diverse lineages of venomous animals, having originated approximately 430 million years ago and diversified into 14 extant families. Although partial venom characterizations have been described for numerous scorpion species, we provided the first quantitative transcriptome/proteome comparison for a scorpion species using single-animal approaches. We sequenced the venom-gland transcriptomes of a male and female black-back scorpion (Hadrurus spadix) from the family Caraboctonidae using the Illumina sequencing platform and conducted independent quantitative mass-spectrometry analyses of their venoms. We identified 79 proteomically confirmed venom proteins, an additional 69 transcripts with homology to toxins from other species, and 596 nontoxin proteins expressed at high levels in the venom glands. The venom of H. spadix was rich in antimicrobial peptides, K+-channel toxins, and several classes of peptidases. However, the most diverse and one of the most abundant classes of putative toxins could not be assigned even a tentative functional role on the basis of homology, indicating that this venom contained a wealth of previously unexplored animal toxin diversity. We found good agreement between both transcriptomic and proteomic abundances across individuals, but transcriptomic and proteomic abundandances differed substantially within each individual. Small peptide toxins such as K+-channel toxins and antimicrobial peptides proved challenging to detect proteomically, at least in part due to the significant proteolytic processing involved in their maturation. In addition, we found a significant tendency for our proteomic approach to overestimate the abundances of large putative toxins and underestimate the abundances of smaller toxins.

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