New publication: Phylogenetic analyses suggest centipede venom arsenals were repeatedly stocked by horizontal gene transfer

By Eivind A. B. Undheim and Ronald A. Jenner in Nature Communications. Open Access.

Coverage: Science News at

Centipedes have been borrowing proteins in their venom from bacteria and fungi

The scientific publication


Venoms have evolved over a hundred times in animals. Venom toxins are thought to evolve mostly by recruitment of endogenous proteins with physiological functions. Here we report phylogenetic analyses of venom proteome-annotated venom gland transcriptome data, assisted by genomic analyses, to show that centipede venoms have recruited at least five gene families from bacterial and fungal donors, involving at least eight horizontal gene transfer events. These results establish centipedes as currently the only known animals with venoms used in predation and defence that contain multiple gene families derived from horizontal gene transfer. The results also provide the first evidence for the implication of horizontal gene transfer in the evolutionary origin of venom in an animal lineage. Three of the bacterial gene families encode virulence factors, suggesting that horizontal gene transfer can provide a fast track channel for the evolution of novelty by the exaptation of bacterial weapons into animal venoms.

Nature Communications volume 12, Article number: 818 (2021)
Published: 05 February 2021
Publiction webpage.

Eivind A. B. Undheim1,2,3 & Ronald A. Jenner4

1Centre for Biodiversity Dynamics, Department of Biology, NTNU, Trondheim, Norway
2Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, Department of Bioscience, University of Oslo, Blindern, Oslo, Norway
3Centre for Advanced Imaging, University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD, Australia

4Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum, London, UK

Published Feb. 10, 2021 12:02 PM - Last modified Mar. 11, 2021 1:49 PM