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Snake genomes revealed for King Cobra and Burmese Python

Freek Vonk and Mike Richardson, with many collaborators, have published two snake genomes in two parallel articles in the prestigious journal PNAS. Their new findings provide insight into the co-evolutionary arms race between predator and prey.

Snake venoms are toxic protein cocktails used for prey capture. “Snake-Freek” and collaborators investigated the evolution of these complex biological weapons by sequencing the whole genome of the venomous King Cobra. Investigation of gene expression related to the venom gland and secreted venom proteins allowed a view into the evolutionary past.

The King Cobra results revealed genomic mechanisms that have played a role in the evolution of regulatory components of venom production. Venomous snakes face ongoing selection pressures to become more or differently poisonous due to the ongoing selection pressure and evolutionary response on their prey to become resistant.

These investigations into snake genomes and evolution of venoms are part of a larger goal to explore and exploit the world’s chemical biodiversity for the development of new medicines and effective antidotes. Snake bites still kill up to 150.000 people every year.