Snake venoms are complex mixtures of toxins that differ on interspecific (between species) and intraspecific (within species) levels. Whether venom variation within a group of closely related species is explained by the presence, absence and/or relative abundances of venom toxins remains largely unknown. Taipans (Oxyuranus spp.) and brown snakes (Pseudonaja spp.) represent medically relevant species of snakes across the Australasian region and provide an excellent model clade for studying interspecific and intraspecific venom variation. Using liquid chromatography with ultraviolet and mass spectrometry detection, we analyzed a total of 31 venoms covering all species of this monophyletic clade, including widespread localities. Our results reveal major interspecific and intraspecific venom variation in Oxyuranus and Pseudonaja species, partially corresponding with their geographical regions and phylogenetic relationships. This extensive venom variability is generated by a combination of the absence/presence and differential abundance of venom toxins. Our study highlights that venom systems can be highly dynamical on the interspecific and intraspecific levels and underscores that the rapid toxin evolvability potentially causes major impacts on neglected tropical snakebites.

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Staff publications

Thiel, J., Alonso, Luis L., Slagboom, Julien, Dunstan, Nathan, Wouters, Roel M., Modahl, Cassandra M., … Kool, Jeroen. (2023). Highly evolvable: investigating interspecific and intraspecific venom variation in taipans (Oxyuranus spp.) and brown snakes (Pseudonaja spp.). Toxins, 15(74). doi:10.3390/toxins15010074