About this Research Topic
Many animals rely on the production of complex venoms for predation and defense. These mixtures of bioactive compounds are produced in specialized tissues and delivered through a broad range of specialized anatomical structures. In the last two decades the study of animal venoms has greatly advanced thanks to new biotechnological developments, including high-throughput sequencing, mass spectrometry and bioassay techniques.
Animal venoms have evolved through million years of natural selection, in a co-evolutionary process involving the prey and the predator, often referred to as an “arms race”. As such, they are extremely efficient, being usually effective at a very low concentration via highly specific interactions with key physiological targets (ion channels, enzymes and membrane receptors). Many venom toxins target the neuromuscular system, while others possess anticoagulant, anesthetic and hypotensive activities. These properties make them important biological tools for the study of their cognate target receptors, many of which are associated with specific human pathologies.
Beside the indisputable potential of their toxins for biotechnological and pharmacological developments, venomous organisms are also perfect evolutionary ecology models for the study of predator-prey interactions. Venom composition is highly variable, both among and within species. Such variability is due to the interplay between genetic and ecological forces that in most cases are still to be clarified, especially since, despite the increased research efforts of the last years, many venomous taxa have not been taken into consideration yet. The investigation of molecular and ecological factors underlying venom diversification can shed light on the evolutionary mechanisms regulating predator-prey interactions. On the other hand, correlating venom production and composition with major macroevolutionary patterns can elucidate the role of venom on species diversification.
This Research Topic aims at tackling venom diversification from different angles: characterization of venoms from previously untapped animal groups, physiology of venom production and delivery, ecological drivers of venom diversification, and major evolutionary forces acting in venom-based predator-prey interactions. This broad perspective will bring together specialists from different fields, from evolutionary biology to physiology, proteomics and genomics, encouraging multidisciplinary approaches to venom research.
Keywords: Venom, Evolution, Diversity, Toxin, Prey-predator arms race, Chemical ecology
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