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Molecular genetics of ecological diversification: duplication and rapid evolution of toxin genes of the venomous gastropod Conus.

Duda T.F. Jr., Palumbi S.R.

Predatory snails in the marine gastropod genus Conus stun prey by injecting a complex mixture of peptide neurotoxins. These conotoxins are associated with trophic diversification and block a diverse array of ion channels and neuronal receptors in prey species, but the evolutionary genesis of this functional diversity is unknown. Here we show that conotoxins with little amino acid similarity are in fact products of recently diverged loci that are rapidly evolving by strong positive selection in the vermivorous cone, Conus abbreviatus, and that the rate of conotoxin evolution is higher than that of most other known proteins. Gene duplication and diversifying selection result in the formation of functionally variable conotoxins that are linked to ecological diversification and evolutionary success of this genus.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 96:6820-6823(1999) [PubMed] [Europe PMC]

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