A Comprehensive Multi-Omic Approach Reveals a Relatively Simple Venom in a Diet Generalist, the Northern Short-Tailed Shrew, Blarina brevicauda.Genome Biol Evol. 2020 Jun 10 [Online ahead of print]GB
Animals that use venom to feed on a wide diversity of prey may evolve a complex mixture of toxins to target a variety of physiological processes and prey-defense mechanisms. Blarina brevicauda, the northern-short tailed shrew, is one of few venomous mammals, and is also known to eat evolutionarily divergent prey. Despite their complex diet, earlier proteomic and transcriptomic studies of this shrew's venom have only identified two venom proteins. Here, we investigated with comprehensive molecular approaches whether B. brevicauda venom is more complex than previously understood. We generated de novo assemblies of a B. brevicauda genome and submaxillary-gland transcriptome, as well as sequenced the salivary proteome. Our findings show that B. brevicauda's venom composition is simple relative to their broad diet and is likely limited to seven proteins from six gene families. Additionally, we explored expression levels and rate of evolution of these venom genes and the origins of key duplications that led to toxin neofunctionalization. We also found three proteins that may be involved in endogenous self-defense. The possible synergism of the toxins suggests that vertebrate prey may be the main target of the venom. Further functional assays for all venom proteins on both vertebrate and invertebrate prey would provide further insight into the ecological relevance of venom in this species.