New publication: Convergent evolution of pain-inducing defensive venom components in spitting cobras

By T. D. Kazandjian et al. (including E. A. B. Undheim) in Science. 

News release at

Researchers demonstrate snake venom evolution for defensive purposes.

The Scientific publication


Convergent evolution provides insights into the selective drivers underlying evolutionary change. Snake venoms, with a direct genetic basis and clearly defined functional phenotype, provide a model system for exploring the repeated evolution of adaptations. While snakes use venom primarily for predation, and venom composition often reflects diet specificity, three lineages of cobras have independently evolved the ability to spit venom at adversaries. Using gene, protein, and functional analyses, we show that the three spitting lineages possess venoms characterized by an up-regulation of phospholipase A2 (PLA2) toxins, which potentiate the action of preexisting venom cytotoxins to activate mammalian sensory neurons and cause enhanced pain. These repeated independent changes provide a fascinating example of convergent evolution across multiple phenotypic levels driven by selection for defense.

Science  22 Jan 2021:
Vol. 371, Issue 6527, pp. 386-390
DOI: 10.1126/science.abb9303
Publication webpage.

D. Petras1, S. D. Robinson, J. van Thiel, H. W. Greene, K. Arbuckle, A. Barlow, D. A. Carter, R. M. Wouters, G. Whiteley, S. C. Wagstaff, A. S. Arias, L.-O. Albulescu, A. Plettenberg Laing, C. Hall, A. Heap, S. Penrhyn-Lowe, C. V. McCabe, S. Ainsworth, R. R. da Silva, P. C. Dorrestein, M. K. Richardson, J. M. Gutiérrez, J. J. Calvete, R. A. Harrison, I. Vetter, E. A. B. Undheim18, W. Wüster, and N. R. Casewell1

  • 1 Centre for Snakebite Research and Interventions, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool L3 5QA, UK.
  • 18 Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, Department of Biosciences, University of Oslo, Blindern, 0316 Oslo, Norway
  • See the publication webpage for full author information.
Published Feb. 10, 2021 11:30 AM - Last modified Mar. 11, 2021 1:48 PM