Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 110–129 | Cite as

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

  • B. G. FryEmail author
  • W. Wüster
  • R. M. Kini
  • V. Brusic
  • A. Khan
  • D. Venkataraman
  • A. P. Rooney


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.


Venom Three-finger toxin Multigene family Elapidae 



We dedicate this paper to the memory of our friend Dr. Joseph B. Slowinski, who died from snakebite in September of 2001 in Myanmar in the pursuit of new species of cobra. We are grateful for the financial assistance of the Australia and Pacific Science Foundation and the Melbourne Aquarium.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • B. G. Fry
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • W. Wüster
    • 3
  • R. M. Kini
    • 2
  • V. Brusic
    • 4
  • A. Khan
    • 4
  • D. Venkataraman
    • 4
  • A. P. Rooney
    • 5
  1. 1.Australian Venom Research Unit, Department of PharmacologyUniversity of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic 3010Australia
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesNational University of SingaporeSingapore 119260
  3. 3.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of Wales, Bangor LL57 2UW, WalesUK
  4. 4.BioDiscovery GroupLaboratories for Information Technology, 21 Heng Mui Keng TerraceSingapore 119613
  5. 5.Mississippi State UniversityDepartment of Biology, P.O. Box GY, Mississippi State, MS 39762USA

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