Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 181, Issue 5, pp 575–594 | Cite as

A review of the evolution of viviparity in squamate reptiles: the past, present and future role of molecular biology and genomics

  • Bridget F. MurphyEmail author
  • Michael B. Thompson


Squamate reptiles (lizards and snakes) offer a unique model system for testing hypotheses about the evolutionary transition from oviparity (egg-laying) to viviparity (live-bearing) in amniote vertebrates. The evolution of squamate viviparity has occurred remarkably frequently (>108 times) and has resulted in major changes in reproductive physiology. Such frequent changes in reproductive strategy pose two questions: (1) what are the molecular mechanisms responsible for the evolution of squamate viviparity? (2) Are these molecular mechanisms the same for separate origins of viviparity? Molecular approaches, such as RT-PCR, in situ hybridisation, Western blotting and immunofluorescence, have been invaluable for identifying genes and proteins that are involved in squamate placental development, materno-foetal immunotolerance, placental transport, placental angiogenesis, hormone synthesis and hormone receptor expression. However, the candidate-gene or -protein approach that has been used until now does not allow for de novo gene/protein discovery; results to date suggest that the reproductive physiologies of mammals and squamate reptiles are very similar, but this conclusion may simply be due to a limited capacity to study the subset of genes and proteins that are unique to reptiles. Progress has also been slowed by the lack of appropriate molecular and genomic resources for squamate reptiles. The advent of next-generation sequencing provides a relatively inexpensive way to conduct rapid high-throughput sequencing of genomes and transcriptomes. We discuss the potential use of next-generation sequencing technologies to analyse differences in gene expression between oviparous and viviparous squamates, provide important sequence information for reptiles, and generate testable hypotheses for the evolution of viviparity.


Molecular biology Genomics Squamate Viviparity Next-generation sequencing 



This review and the ideas it contains was supported by ARC Discovery grants to MBT and C. R. Murphy. We wish to thank M. C. Brandley and S. L. Parker for helpful discussions of ideas in this manuscript.


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© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological Sciences (A08)University of SydneyCamperdownAustralia

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