Genetic characterization of potential venom resistance proteins in California ground squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi) using transcriptome analyses
Ochoa, Alexander; Hassinger, Alyssa T. B.; Holding, Matthew L.; Gibbs, H. Lisle (2022), Genetic characterization of potential venom resistance proteins in California ground squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi) using transcriptome analyses, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.wm37pvmqd
Understanding the molecular basis of adaptations in coevolving species requires identifying the genes that underlie reciprocally selected phenotypes, such as those involved in venom in snakes and resistance to venom in their prey. In this regard, California ground squirrels (CGS; Otospermophilus beecheyi) are eaten by northern Pacific rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus oreganus), but individual squirrels may still show substantial resistance to venom and survive bites. A recent study using proteomics identified venom interactive proteins (VIPs) in the blood serum of CGS. These VIPs represent possible resistance proteins, but the sequences of genes encoding them are unknown despite the value of such data to molecular studies of coevolution. To address this issue, we analyzed a de novo assembled transcriptome from CGS liver tissue—where many plasma proteins are synthesized—and other tissues from this species. We then examined VIP sequences in terms of three characteristics that identify them as possible resistance proteins: evidence for positive selection, high liver expression, and nonsynonymous variation across CGS populations. Based on these characteristics, we identified five VIPs (i.e., alpha-2-macroglobulin, alpha-1-antitrypsin-like protein GS55-LT, apolipoprotein A-II, hibernation-associated plasma protein HP-20, and hibernation-associated plasma protein HP-27) as the most likely candidates for resistance proteins among VIPs identified to date. Four of these proteins have been previously implicated in conferring resistance to venom in mammals, validating our approach. When combined with the detailed information available for rattlesnake venom proteins, these results set the stage for future work focused on understanding coevolutionary interactions at the molecular level between these species.