Animal venom is a remarkable example of convergent evolutionary novelty - it has independently evolved across all phyla of the animal kingdom to subdue prey and predators. To produce and deliver this potent biochemical weapon, venomous animals possess specialized anatomical structures which emerge from different developmental tissues in the various lineages. How animals have repeatedly evolved this key adaptive trait is unknown. The recent omics revolution has generated an explosion of venom-gland transcriptomes mainly for biodiscovery. However, the mechanisms underlying the emergence and regulatory evolution of venom have not been investigated. In this ambitious and ground-breaking project, I will use a hierarchical approach and large-scale comparative transcriptomic analyses to shed light on the following open questions: Q1) To what extent is the independent evolution of novel adaptive traits associated with convergence in transcriptome evolution? Q2) Which molecular processes contribute to the evolution of these innovative traits? Q3) To what extent does the expression pattern of new specialized cell types overlap the original tissue from which they develop? I will answer Q1 by comparing non-homologous venom-gland transcriptomes across the major lineages of the animal kingdom. I will answer Q2 by focusing on one lineage (Neogastropoda) and comparing the venom-gland with homologous, non-venomous organs. Finally, I will answer Q3 by analysing gene expression patterns between structurally and functionally different cell types within the venom-gland. The success of this project is ensured by the integration in top hosting bioinformatics groups at the Université de Lausanne and collaboration with leading experts in cone snail evolution. This project will provide intensive training which is crucial for restarting my research career and establishing myself as a pioneer and leader in a new research area, venom evo-devo.
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