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1.  On the Importance of Oxidative Folding in the Evolution of Conotoxins: Cysteine Codon Preservation through Gene Duplication and Adaptation 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e78456.
Conotoxin genes are among the most rapidly evolving genes currently known; however, despite the well-established hypervariability of the intercysteine loops, the cysteines demonstrate significant conservation, with a site-specific codon bias for each cysteine in a family of conotoxins. Herein we present a novel rationale behind the codon-level conservation of the cysteines that comprise the disulfide scaffold. We analyze cysteine codon conservation using an internal reference and phylogenetic tools; our results suggest that the established codon conservation can be explained as the result of selective pressures linked to the production efficiency and folding of conotoxins, driving the conservation of cysteine at the amino-acid level. The preservation of cysteine has resulted in maintenance of the ancestral codon in most of the daughter lineages, despite the hypervariability of adjacent residues. We propose that the selective pressures acting on the venom components of cone snails involve an interplay of biosynthetic efficiency, activity at the target receptor and the importance of that activity to effective prey immobilization. Functional redundancy in the venom can thus serve as a buffer for the energy expenditure of venom production.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078456
PMCID: PMC3823881  PMID: 24244311
2.  The contrasted evolutionary fates of deep-sea chemosynthetic mussels (Bivalvia, Bathymodiolinae)a 
Ecology and Evolution  2013;3(14):4748-4766.
Bathymodiolinae are giant mussels that were discovered at hydrothermal vents and harboring chemosynthetic symbionts. Due to their close phylogenetic relationship with seep species and tiny mussels from organic substrates, it was hypothesized that they gradually evolved from shallow to deeper environments, and specialized in decaying organic remains, then in seeps, and finally colonized deep-sea vents. Here, we present a multigene phylogeny that reveals that most of the genera are polyphyletic and/or paraphyletic. The robustness of the phylogeny allows us to revise the genus-level classification. Organic remains are robustly supported as the ancestral habitat for Bathymodiolinae. However, rather than a single step toward colonization of vents and seeps, recurrent habitat shifts from organic substrates to vents and seeps occurred during evolution, and never the reverse. This new phylogenetic framework challenges the gradualist scenarios “from shallow to deep.” Mussels from organic remains tolerate a large range of ecological conditions and display a spectacular species diversity contrary to vent mussels, although such habitats are yet underexplored compared to vents and seeps. Overall, our data suggest that for deep-sea mussels, the high specialization to vent habitats provides ecological success in this harsh habitat but also brings the lineage to a kind of evolutionary dead end.
doi:10.1002/ece3.749
PMCID: PMC3867909  PMID: 24363902
Bathymodiolinae; chemosynthetic ecosystem; deep-sea; evolution
3.  Is the Species Flock Concept Operational? The Antarctic Shelf Case 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e68787.
There has been a significant body of literature on species flock definition but not so much about practical means to appraise them. We here apply the five criteria of Eastman and McCune for detecting species flocks in four taxonomic components of the benthic fauna of the Antarctic shelf: teleost fishes, crinoids (feather stars), echinoids (sea urchins) and crustacean arthropods. Practical limitations led us to prioritize the three historical criteria (endemicity, monophyly, species richness) over the two ecological ones (ecological diversity and habitat dominance). We propose a new protocol which includes an iterative fine-tuning of the monophyly and endemicity criteria in order to discover unsuspected flocks. As a result nine « full » species flocks (fulfilling the five criteria) are briefly described. Eight other flocks fit the three historical criteria but need to be further investigated from the ecological point of view (here called « core flocks »). The approach also shows that some candidate taxonomic components are no species flocks at all. The present study contradicts the paradigm that marine species flocks are rare. The hypothesis according to which the Antarctic shelf acts as a species flocks generator is supported, and the approach indicates paths for further ecological studies and may serve as a starting point to investigate the processes leading to flock-like patterning of biodiversity.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0068787
PMCID: PMC3732269  PMID: 23936311
4.  Evolution of Conus Peptide Toxins: Analysis of Conus californicus Reeve, 1844 
Conus species are characterized by their hyperdiverse toxins, encoded by a few gene superfamilies. Our phylogenies of the genus, based on mitochondrial genes, confirm previous results that C. californicus is highly divergent from all other species. Genetic and biochemical analysis of their venom peptides comprise the fifteen most abundant conopeptides and over 50 mature cDNA transcripts from the venom duct. Although C. californicus venom retains many of the general properties of other Conus species, they share only half of the toxin gene superfamilies found in other Conus species. Thus, in these two lineages, approximately half of the rapidly diversifying gene superfamilies originated after an early Tertiary split. Such results demonstrate that, unlike endogenously acting gene families, these genes are likely to be significantly more restricted in their phylogenetic distribution. In concordance with the evolutionary duistance of C. californicus from other species, there are aspects of prey-capture behavior and prey preferences of this species that diverges significantly from all other Conus.
doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2010.03.029
PMCID: PMC3488448  PMID: 20363338
biodiversity; accelerated evolution; gene superfamilies; cone snail; exogenomics; phylogenetic relationships
5.  Genetic divergence and geographic variation in the deep-water Conus orbignyi complex (Mollusca: Conoidea) 
Zoologica scripta  2011;40(4):350-363.
Puillandre, N. et al. (2010) Genetic divergence and geographic variation in a deep-water cone lineage: molecular and morphological analyses of the Conus orbignyi complex (Mollusca: Conoidea).
The cone snails (family Conidae) are a hyperdiverse lineage of venomous gastropods. Two standard markers, COI and ITS2, were used to define six genetically-divergent groups within a subclade of Conidae that includes Conus orbignyi; each of these was then evaluated based on their shell morphology. We conclude that three forms, previously regarded as subspecies of Conus orbignyi are distinct species, now recognized as Conus orbignyi, Conus elokismenos and Conus coriolisi. In addition, three additional species (Conus pseudorbignyi, Conus joliveti and Conus comatosa) belong to this clade. Some of the proposed species (e.g., Conus elokismenos) are possibly in turn complexes comprising multiple species. Groups such as Conidae illustrate the challenges generally faced in species delimitation in biodiverse lineages. In the case of the Conus orbignyi complex, not only are there definable, genetically divergent lineages, but also considerable geographic variation within each group. Our study suggests that an intensive analysis of multiple specimens within a single locality helps to minimize the confounding effects of geographic variation and can be a useful starting point for circumscribing different species within such a confusing complex.
doi:10.1111/j.1463-6409.2011.00478.x
PMCID: PMC3123138  PMID: 21712968
COI gene; Conidae; ITS2 gene; Phylogeny; Species delimitation
6.  Evolution of Conus Peptide Genes: Duplication and Positive Selection in the A-Superfamily 
Journal of molecular evolution  2010;70(2):190-202.
A remarkable diversity of venom peptides is expressed in the genus Conus (known as “conotoxins” or “conopeptides”). Between 50 and 200 different venom peptides can be found in a single Conus species, each having its own complement of peptides. Conopeptides are encoded by a few gene superfamilies; here we analyze the evolution of the A-superfamily in a fish-hunting species clade, Pionoconus. More than 90 conopeptide sequences from 11 different Conus species were used to build a phylogenetic tree. Comparison with a species tree based on standard genes reveals multiple gene duplication events, some of which took place before the Pionoconus radiation. By analysing several A-conopeptides from other Conus species recorded in GenBank, we date the major duplication events after the divergence between fish-hunting and non-fish-hunting species. Furthermore, likelihood approaches revealed strong positive selection; the magnitude depends on which A-conopeptide lineage and amino-acid locus is analyzed. The four major A-conopeptide clades defined are consistent with the current division of the superfamily into families and subfamilies based on the Cys pattern. The function of three of these clades (the κA-family, the α4/7-subfamily, and α3/5-subfamily) has previously been characterized. The function of the remaining clade, corresponding to the α4/4-subfamily, has not been elucidated. This subfamily is also found in several other fish-hunting species clades within Conus. The analysis revealed a surprisingly diverse origin of α4/4 conopeptides from a single species, Conus bullatus. This phylogenetic approach that defines different genetic lineages of Conus venom peptides provides a guidepost for identifying conopeptides with potentially novel functions.
doi:10.1007/s00239-010-9321-7
PMCID: PMC2943986  PMID: 20143226
Duplication; Conus; Positive selection; A-superfamily conotoxin; Concerted discovery; Molecular phylogeny
7.  The Terebridae and teretoxins: Combining phylogeny and anatomy for concerted discovery of bioactive compounds 
BMC Chemical Biology  2010;10:7.
The Conoidea superfamily, comprised of cone snails, terebrids, and turrids, is an exceptionally promising group for the discovery of natural peptide toxins. The potential of conoidean toxins has been realized with the distribution of the first Conus (cone snail) drug, Prialt (ziconotide), an analgesic used to alleviate chronic pain in HIV and cancer patients. Cone snail toxins (conotoxins) are highly variable, a consequence of a high mutation rate associated to duplication events and positive selection. As Conus and terebrids diverged in the early Paleocene, the toxins from terebrids (teretoxins) may demonstrate highly divergent and unique functionalities. Recent analyses of the Terebridae, a largely distributed family with more than 300 described species, indicate they have evolutionary and pharmacological potential. Based on a three gene (COI, 12S and 16S) molecular phylogeny, including ~50 species from the West-Pacific, five main terebrid lineages were discriminated: two of these lineages independently lost their venom apparatus, and one venomous lineage was previously unknown. Knowing the phylogenetic relationships within the Terebridae aids in effectively targeting divergent lineages with novel peptide toxins. Preliminary results indicate that teretoxins are similar in structure and composition to conotoxins, suggesting teretoxins are an attractive line of research to discover and develop new therapeutics that target ion channels and receptors. Using conotoxins as a guideline, and innovative natural products discovery strategies, such as the Concerted Discovery Strategy, the potential of the Terebridae and their toxins are explored as a pioneering pharmacological resource.
doi:10.1186/1472-6769-10-7
PMCID: PMC2954879  PMID: 20849634
8.  Correlating Molecular Phylogeny with Venom Apparatus Occurrence in Panamic Auger Snails (Terebridae) 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(11):e7667.
Central to the discovery of neuroactive compounds produced by predatory marine snails of the superfamily Conoidea (cone snails, terebrids, and turrids) is identifying those species with a venom apparatus. Previous analyses of western Pacific terebrid specimens has shown that some Terebridae groups have secondarily lost their venom apparatus. In order to efficiently characterize terebrid toxins, it is essential to devise a key for identifying which species have a venom apparatus. The findings presented here integrate molecular phylogeny and the evolution of character traits to infer the presence or absence of the venom apparatus in the Terebridae. Using a combined dataset of 156 western and 33 eastern Pacific terebrid samples, a phylogenetic tree was constructed based on analyses of 16S, COI and 12S mitochondrial genes. The 33 eastern Pacific specimens analyzed represent four different species: Acus strigatus, Terebra argyosia, T. ornata, and T. cf. formosa. Anatomical analysis was congruent with molecular characters, confirming that species included in the clade Acus do not have a venom apparatus, while those in the clade Terebra do. Discovery of the association between terebrid molecular phylogeny and the occurrence of a venom apparatus provides a useful tool for effectively identifying the terebrid lineages that may be investigated for novel pharmacological active neurotoxins, enhancing conservation of this important resource, while providing supplementary information towards understanding terebrid evolutionary diversification.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007667
PMCID: PMC2766622  PMID: 19890382
9.  Evolution of the Toxoglossa Venom Apparatus as Inferred by Molecular Phylogeny of the Terebridae 
Toxoglossate marine gastropods, traditionally assigned to the families Conidae, Terebridae, and Turridae, are one of the most populous animal groups that use venom to capture their prey. These marine animals are generally characterized by a venom apparatus that consists of a muscular venom bulb and a tubular venom gland. The toxoglossan radula, often compared with a hypodermic needle for its use as a conduit to inject toxins into prey, is considered a major anatomical breakthrough that assisted in the successful initial radiation of these animals in the Cretaceous and early Tertiary. The pharmacological success of toxins from cone snails has made this group a star among biochemists and neuroscientists, but very little is known about toxins from the other Toxoglossa, and the phylogeny of these families is largely in doubt. Here we report the first molecular phylogeny for the Terebridae and use the results to infer the evolution of the venom apparatus for this group. Our findings indicate that most of the genera of terebrids are polyphyletic, and one species (“Terebra” (s.l.) jungi) is the sister group to all other terebrids. Molecular analyses combined with mapping of venom apparatus morphology indicate that the Terebridae have lost the venom apparatus at least twice during their evolution. Species in the genera Terebra and Hastula have the typical venom apparatus found in most toxoglossate gastropods, but all other terebrid species do not. For venomous organisms, the dual analysis of molecular phylogeny and toxin function is an instructive combination for unraveling the larger questions of phylogeny and speciation. The results presented here suggest a paradigm shift in the current understanding of terebrid evolution, while presenting a road map for discovering novel terebrid toxins, a largely unexplored resource for biomedical research and potential therapeutic drug development.
doi:10.1093/molbev/msn211
PMCID: PMC2639078  PMID: 18840603
Toxoglossa evolution; Terebridae phylogeny; venomous marine snails; peptide toxins; venom apparatus

Results 1-9 (9)