Recent Advances in the Field of Parthenogenesis in Snakes

Booth, Warren

Department of Biological Science

The University of Tulsa

Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA

Chiricahua Desert Museum

Rodeo, New Mexico, USA

Card, Daren

Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

Harvard University

Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Castoe, Todd A.

Department of Biology

University of Texas at Arlington

Arlington, Texas, USA

Vonk, Freek

Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Leiden, The Netherlands

Wüster, Wolfgang

Alistair Reid Venom Research Unit

School of Natural Sciences

Bangor University

Bangor, UK

Chiricahua Desert Museum

Rodeo, New Mexico, USA

Casewell, Nicholas R.

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

Liverpool, UK

Schuett, Gordon W.

Department of Biology and Neuroscience Institute

Georgia State University

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Chiricahua Desert Museum

Rodeo, New Mexico, USA

In recent years it has become clear that snakes may represent an ideal model system for study of vertebrate parthenogenesis. Phylogenetically widespread, parthenogenesis has been reported as obligatory in the basal Brahminy Blind Snake (Indotyphlops braminus) and facultative in all of the other lineages. In those taxa demonstrated to exhibit facultative parthenogenesis (FP), a diversity of forms has been discovered with regard to characteristics of the resulting parthenogens. These include differences in sex chromosome morphology and number, viability, and sex of the parthenogens. This, in concert with the first records of viable reproduction by a parthenogen, has shed light on sex chromosome evolution which, in turn, has resulted in the identification of both ZW and XY sex chromosome systems in snakes. Recent findings in pitvipers have informed, and indeed yielded, additional questions regarding the inheritance and complexity of venom. Current research has focused on the levels of heterozygosity retained by individual parthenogens and the genomic regions of retention. New results in our labs bring into question the assumed mechanism of terminal fusion automixis as the pathway for producing FP progeny. This strongly suggests that our understanding of FP (and related phenomena) is likely far from complete.

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photo credits: Wolfgang Wüster

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