Venoms and the toxins they contain represent molecular adaptations that have evolved on numerous occasions throughout the animal kingdom. However, the processes that shape venom protein evolution are poorly understood because of the scarcity of whole-genome data available for comparative analyses of venomous species.
We performed a broad comparative toxicogenomic analysis to gain insight into the genomic mechanisms of venom evolution in robber flies (Asilidae). We first sequenced a high-quality draft genome of the hymenopteran hunting robber fly Dasypogon diadema, analysed its venom by a combined proteotranscriptomic approach, and compared our results with recently described robber fly venoms to assess the general composition and major components of asilid venom. We then applied a comparative genomics approach, based on 1 additional asilid genome, 10 high-quality dipteran genomes, and 2 lepidopteran outgroup genomes, to reveal the evolutionary mechanisms and origins of identified venom proteins in robber flies.
While homologues were identified for 15 of 30 predominant venom protein in the non-asilid genomes, the remaining 15 highly expressed venom proteins appear to be unique to robber flies. Our results reveal that the venom of D. diadema likely evolves in a multimodal fashion comprising (i) neofunctionalization after gene duplication, (ii) expression-dependent co-option of proteins, and (iii) asilid lineage-specific orphan genes with enigmatic origin. The role of such orphan genes is currently being disputed in evolutionary genomics but has not been discussed in the context of toxin evolution. Our results display an unexpected dynamic venom evolution in asilid insects, which contrasts the findings of the only other insect toxicogenomic evolutionary analysis, in parasitoid wasps (Hymenoptera), where toxin evolution is dominated by single gene co-option. These findings underpin the significance of further genomic studies to cover more neglected lineages of venomous taxa and to understand the importance of orphan genes as possible drivers for venom evolution.
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