Understanding how interspecific interactions mould the molecular basis of adaptations in coevolving species is a long-sought goal of evolutionary biology. Venom in predators and venom resistance proteins in prey are coevolving molecular phenotypes, and while venoms are highly complex mixtures it is unclear if prey respond with equally complex resistance traits. Here we use a novel molecular methodology based on protein affinity columns to capture and identify candidate blood serum resistance proteins (‘Venom Interactive Proteins’ – VIPs) in California Ground Squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi) that interact with venom proteins from their main predator, Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes (Crotalus o. oreganus). This assay showed that serum-based resistance is both population- and species-specific, with serum proteins from ground squirrels showing higher binding affinities for venom proteins of local snakes compared to allopatric individuals. Venom protein specificity assays identified numerous and diverse candidate prey resistance VIPs but also potential targets of venom in prey tissues. Many specific VIPs bind to multiple snake venom proteins and, conversely, single venom proteins bind multiple VIPs, demonstrating that a portion of the squirrel blood serum “resistome” involves broad-based inhibition of non-self proteins and suggests that resistance involves a toxin scavenging mechanism. Analyses of rates of evolution of VIP protein homologs in related mammals show that most of these proteins evolve under purifying selection possibly due to molecular constraints that limit the evolutionary responses of prey to rapidly evolving snake venom proteins. Our method represents a general approach to identify specific proteins involved in coevolutionary interactions between species at the molecular level.
Two datasets are included in this submission. One, a summary of proteomics data generated from ground squirrel serum and rattlesnake venom protein-based protein affinity columns (see Fig. 1 in Gibbs et al. 2020 for a description of the experimental design used to generate these data). Two, a zipped file containing data and scripts used for PAML analyses of inferred Venom Interative Proteins (VIPs) (See enclosed README file for individual file descriptions).