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Evolution of venom, binge eating seen in snake DNA

Python and cobra genes evolved quickly to enable hunting strategies

TURNING TOXIC  King cobras evolved deadly venom from ordinary proteins. Duplicated genes and mutations altered the proteins’ functions, turning them into toxins.

Snake genes are in high evolutionary gear.

Complete genomes of the Burmese python and king cobra reveal that many snake genes have changed more rapidly than those of other vertebrates, researchers report December 2 in two studies in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The two genomes are the first complete sets of snake genes ever assembled. 

Snakes evolved some extreme survival strategies. Cobras and pythons represent some of the most out-there examples, says David Pollock, a coauthor of both studies who is an evolutionary biologist and genomicist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora.

Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) are ambush predators that seldom find meals. When they do, they gorge. Adult pythons can swallow an adult pig whole. Within four days of consuming such a feast, the snake’s organs expand by at least 35 percent, with some even doubling in size.

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