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Evolution of ecological specialization and venom of a predatory marine gastropod

Authors

  • E. A. REMIGIO,

    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology/Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan, 1109 Geddes Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA,
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  • T. F. DUDA JR

    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology/Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan, 1109 Geddes Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA,
    2. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado 0843-03092, Balboa, Ancón, Panama
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T. F. Duda Jr, Fax: 734-763-4080; E-mail: tfduda@umich.edu

Abstract

Understanding the evolution of ecological specialization is important for making inferences about the origins of biodiversity. Members of the predatory, marine gastropod genus Conus exhibit a variety of diets and the ability to capture prey is linked to a venom comprised of peptide neurotoxins, termed conotoxins. We identified conotoxin transcripts from Conus leopardus, a species of Conus that uniquely preys exclusively on hemichordates, and compared its venom duct transcriptome to that of four other Conus species to determine whether a shift to a specialized diet is associated with changes in the venom composition of this species. We also examined the secondary structure of predicted amino acid sequences of conotoxin transcripts of C. leopardus to identify substitutions that may be linked to specialization on hemichordates. We identified seven distinct conotoxin sequences from C. leopardus that appear to represent transcripts of seven distinct loci. Expression levels and the diversity of conotoxins expressed by C. leopardus are considerably less than those of other Conus. Moreover, gene products of two transcripts exhibited unique secondary structures that have not been previously observed from other Conus. These results suggest that transition to a specialist diet is associated with reduction in the number of components expressed in venoms of Conus and that diverse venoms of Conus are maintained in species with a broad dietary width.

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