Characterizing the Gut Microbiome in Rattlesnakes with Divergent Venoms

Stiers, Erin E.                                                                      

estiers@clemson.edu

 

Strickland, Jason L.                                                                                                                                       Department of Biological Sciences

Clemson University

Clemson, South Carolina, USA

 

Parkinson, Christopher L.                                                                                                                                              Department of Biological Sciences 

Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation

Clemson University

Clemson, South Carolina, USA

 

The microbiome is the total microbial community in an environment and can inflict strong ecological and evolutionary pressures on host systems. Compositional and functional changes to the microbiome often precede and may even mediate adaptive evolution and speciation. The gut microbiome has a primary role in digestion and energy acquisition and is expected to be closely linked to dietary specialization. Although many organisms have specialized adaptations for food acquisition, few are as variable and well-characterized as snake venoms. Snake venom variation is highly adaptive and often associated with dietary shifts. Gut microbiomes in other vertebrate systems have been shown to covary with dietary composition. To determine the role of the microbiome as an agent of phenotypic shifts in venom, we have collected cloacal microbiome samples from the Mojave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus) which possesses a well-characterized polymorphic venom phenotype. Over 200 longitudinal microbiome samples from twelve C. scutulatus have been collected and sequenced using 16S to determine differential microbiome changes. Utilizing microbial community data in the Crotalus venom system will deepen our understanding not only of venom adaptation, but of the animal-bacterial interactions which influence vertebrate traits.

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