A limited role for gene duplications in the evolution of platypus venom.

Mol Biol Evol. 2012 Jan;29(1):167-77. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msr180. Epub 2011 Aug 3.


Gene duplication followed by adaptive selection is believed to be the primary driver of venom evolution. However, to date, no studies have evaluated the importance of gene duplications for venom evolution using a genomic approach. The availability of a sequenced genome and a venom gland transcriptome for the enigmatic platypus provides a unique opportunity to explore the role that gene duplication plays in venom evolution. Here, we identify gene duplication events and correlate them with expressed transcripts in an in-season venom gland. Gene duplicates (1,508) were identified. These duplicated pairs (421), including genes that have undergone multiple rounds of gene duplications, were expressed in the venom gland. The majority of these genes are involved in metabolism and protein synthesis not toxin functions. Twelve secretory genes including serine proteases, metalloproteinases, and protease inhibitors likely to produce symptoms of envenomation such as vasodilation and pain were detected. Only 16 of 107 platypus genes with high similarity to known toxins evolved through gene duplication. Platypus venom C-type natriuretic peptides and nerve growth factor do not possess lineage-specific gene duplicates. Extensive duplications, believed to increase the potency of toxic content and promote toxin diversification, were not found. This is the first study to take a genome-wide approach in order to examine the impact of gene duplication on venom evolution. Our findings support the idea that adaptive selection acts on gene duplicates to drive the independent evolution and functional diversification of similar venom genes in venomous species. However, gene duplications alone do not explain the "venome" of the platypus. Other mechanisms, such as alternative splicing and mutation, may be important in venom innovation.


Wong ES, Papenfuss AT, Whittington CM, Warren WC, Belov K.

Institute Authors

Wes Warren, Ph.D.