For my first blog post I thought it would be fitting to highlight the recent publication of my first manuscript! In early December we published on the release of the first snake genome, that of the Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus). The response to our PNAS paper was great, and news of the release was carried by many news outlets.
The work highlights the massive transcriptional fluctuations that occur when a Burmese python feeds, which facilitates enlargement of several vital organs (heart, liver, kidney, and small intestine) and allows the snake to digest its prey rapidly. Thousands of genes are differentially expressed during this physiological response and those with significant fluctuations are homologous with metabolism, development, and pathology in humans. An analysis of molecular evolution found that many genes have endured positive selection, making them distinct from forms found in all other vertebrate organisms. Additionally, characteristics of genome structure indicate massive genome remodeling. Overall, the extreme phenotypes evident in snakes appear to be a product of protein adaptation, coordinated gene expression, and changes in genome structure. Stay tuned for future work on physiological remodeling in the Burmese pythons and genome evolution in snakes and squamate reptiles.