CORDIS - EU research results

Venom Evolution in Nemerteans: Connecting Functional Morphology, Gene Expression and Proteome through Spatial Omics

Project description

From poison to medicine; evolutionary venomics paves the way for novel therapeutic agents

Many animals have adapted to produce venoms, biochemical secretions for defence, predation and competition. Despite their complexity, venoms present common compounds and targets. The EU-funded Finding VENomS project is focussing on the evolution of toxins and venoms, which is poorly understood. Researchers will combine transcriptomics and proteomics to determine venom composition in the ribbon worm Nemertea, unveiling its diversity in this invertebrate species. Apart from insight into venom evolution, the project has the potential to identify novel bioactive compounds with applications in the pharmaceutical industry as drug leads and biotechnological tools.


Animal venoms are key adaptations that have evolved independently in many taxa to assist in defence, predation and competition. Venoms are some of the most complex biochemical secretions known in nature, but despite this complexity, there is a high degree of convergence in toxin structure and targets, making venomous organisms great model systems to investigate areas as diverse as molecular evolution, functional convergence and drug discovery. However, the processes underlying toxin and venom evolution remain poorly understood, particularly in invertebrates. With recent advancements in sequencing and analytical techniques these neglected taxa are being increasingly investigated, revealing a high genetic and functional diversity of venom compounds and challenging traditional views about venom evolution. Still, many phyla such as ribbon worms (Nemertea), active predators that use toxins for defense and predation, remain understudied. This project aims to investigate venom evolution in Nemertea using an integrative evolutionary venomics approach. I propose to use a transcriptomics-proteomics approach referred to as proteogenomics, combining RNA-seq differential gene expression analysis (DGE) and tandem mass spectrometry-based proteomics (MS/MS) to determine venom composition, and integrate these data with expression and functional morphology data derived from spatial omics, both spatial transcriptomics (ST) and spatial proteomics (MALDI-IMS), transmission and scanning electron microscopy (TEM and SEM). This will advance our understanding of ribbon worm venom systems, and shed new light into the true diversity of animal venoms and their evolution. Additionally, this research will likely uncover novel bioactive compounds, with great potential as drug leads and biotechnological tools, making this project’s findings highly relevant to the H2020 focus area Blue Growth objective of developing new bio-based products, including pharmaceuticals.


Net EU contribution
€ 50 953,11
28006 Madrid

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Comunidad de Madrid Comunidad de Madrid Madrid
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 50 953,11

Participants (1)