Evolution of polychaete venoms

We are investigating venom in polychaetes, a group of carnivorous marine worms, to understand convergent evolution of venoms in different groups.

Venomics research has traditionally focused on a subsection of known venomous animals, such as snakes, scorpions, spiders and cone snails. Other venomous taxa, such as ticks, centipedes and polychaetes, have been less well studied.

This has led to a skewed understanding of venom evolution, biased towards the traditional groups. We aim to investigate two diverse groups of venomous marine polychaetes: the Glyceridae family of bloodworms and several families of scaleworms.

Creatures

Bloodworms are known to have complex venom that they use to capture and subdue prey. They are also extensively harvested and used as bait in the multi-million dollar fishing industry. Little is known, however, about the composition, bioactivity or evolution of the toxins that comprise its venom cocktail.

Scaleworms are even less well understood. The presence of venom glands has only been reported for some species in several families, and nothing at all is known about scale worm venom composition.

Methods

Many methods will be used to gain a better understanding of polychaete venom. We will conduct:

  • a combination of transcriptomic (RNA) and proteomic (protein) techniques to fully characterise the venom composition and evolution of bloodworm and scale worm species
  • in situ hybridization studies to determine toxin distribution in the venom glands
  • morphological studies to assess the presence and structure of the venom apparatus using cutting edge imaging techniques
  • bioactivity assays to uncover the activities of selected polychaete venom toxins

Images

Glycera fallax

General bloodworm morphology (unidentified species).

Glycera jaw

External view of Glycera jaw venom apparatus. The prostomium is the first body segment in annelid worms.

Harmothoe imbricate

External morphology of Harmothoe imbricata (Linnaeus, 1767), a scaleworm.

Project staff

External collaborators

Glossary

Convergent evolution
The independent evolution of similar features in species of different lineages.

Bioactivity
The effects of a substance on living matter, in this case venom.

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