, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 110-129

Molecular Evolution and Phylogeny of Elapid Snake Venom Three-Finger Toxins

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Abstract

Animal venom components are of considerable interest to researchers across a wide variety of disciplines, including molecular biology, biochemistry, medicine, and evolutionary genetics. The three-finger family of snake venom peptides is a particularly interesting and biochemically complex group of venom peptides, because they are encoded by a large multigene family and display a diverse array of functional activities. In addition, understanding how this complex and highly varied multigene family evolved is an interesting question to researchers investigating the biochemical diversity of these peptides and their impact on human health. Therefore, the purpose of our study was to investigate the long-term evolutionary patterns exhibited by these snake venom toxins to understand the mechanisms by which they diversified into a large, biochemically diverse, multigene family. Our results show a much greater diversity of family members than was previously known, including a number of subfamilies that did not fall within any previously identified groups with characterized activities. In addition, we found that the long-term evolutionary processes that gave rise to the diversity of three-finger toxins are consistent with the birth-and-death model of multigene family evolution. It is anticipated that this “three-finger toxin toolkit” will prove to be useful in providing a clearer picture of the diversity of investigational ligands or potential therapeutics available within this important family.