The Burmese python's ability to ramp up its metabolism and enlarge its organs to swallow and digest prey whole can be traced to unusually rapid evolution and specialized adaptations of its genes and the way they work, an international team of biologists says in a new paper.
Lead author Todd Castoe, an assistant professor of biology at The University of Texas at Arlington College of Science, and 38 co-authors from four countries sequenced and analyzed the genome of the Burmese python, or Python molurus bivittatus. Their work is scheduled for publication this week (Dec. 2) by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences along with a companion paper on the sequencing and analysis of the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah). The papers represent the first complete and annotated snake genomes.
Because snakes contain many of the same genes as other vertebrates, studying how these genes have evolved to produce such extreme and unique characteristics in snakes can eventually help explain how these genes function, including how they enable extreme feats of organ remodeling. Such knowledge may eventually be used to treat human diseases.
"One of the fundamental questions of evolutionary biology is how vertebrates with all the same genes display such vastly different characteristics. The Burmese python is a great way to study that because it is so extreme," Castoe, who began working on the python project as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in the laboratory of associate professor and paper corresponding author David D. Pollock.
Castoe said: "We'd like to know how the snake uses genes we all have to do things that no other vertebrates can do."
The new python study calls into question previous theories that major obvious physical differences among species are caused primarily by changes in gene expression. Instead, it contends that protein adaptation, gene expressi
|Contact: Traci Peterson|
University of Texas at Arlington