The Burmese python genome reveals the molecular basis for extreme adaptation in snakes.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Dec 2. [Epub ahead of print]


Snakes possess many extreme morphological and physiological adaptations. Identification of the molecular basis of these traits can provide novel understanding for vertebrate biology and medicine. Here, we study snake biology using the genome sequence of the Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus), a model of extreme physiological and metabolic adaptation. We compare the python and king cobra genomes along with genomic samples from other snakes and perform transcriptome analysis to gain insights into the extreme phenotypes of the python. We discovered rapid and massive transcriptional responses in multiple organ systems that occur on feeding and coordinate major changes in organ size and function. Intriguingly, the homologs of these genes in humans are associated with metabolism, development, and pathology. We also found that many snake metabolic genes have undergone positive selection, which together with the rapid evolution of mitochondrial proteins, provides evidence for extensive adaptive redesign of snake metabolic pathways. Additional evidence for molecular adaptation and gene family expansions and contractions is associated with major physiological and phenotypic adaptations in snakes; genes involved are related to cell cycle, development, lungs, eyes, heart, intestine, and skeletal structure, including GRB2-associated binding protein 1, SSH, WNT16, and bone morphogenetic protein 7. Finally, changes in repetitive DNA content, guanine-cytosine isochore structure, and nucleotide substitution rates indicate major shifts in the structure and evolution of snake genomes compared with other amniotes. Phenotypic and physiological novelty in snakes seems to be driven by system-wide coordination of protein adaptation, gene expression, and changes in the structure of the genome.


Castoe TA, de Koning AP, Hall KT, Card DC, Schield DR, Fujita MK, Ruggiero RP, Degner JF, Daza JM, Gu W, Reyes-Velasco J, Shaney KJ, Castoe JM, Fox SE, Poole AW, Polanco D, Dobry J, Vandewege MW, Li Q, Schott RK, Kapusta A, Minx P, Feschotte C, Uetz P, Ray DA, Hoffmann FG, Bogden R, Smith EN, Chang BS, Vonk FJ, Casewell NR, Henkel CV, Richardson MK, Mackessy SP, Bronikowsi AM, Yandell M, Warren WC, Secor SM, Pollock DD.

Institute Authors

Wes Warren, Ph.D., Patrick Minx