Genomic, functional and structural analyses elucidate evolutionary innovation within the sea anemone 8 toxin family

Lauren M. Ashwood, Khaled A. Elnahriry, Zachary K. Stewart, Thomas Shafee, Muhammad Umair Naseem, Tibor G. Szanto, Chloé A. van der Burg, Hayden L. Smith, Joachim M. Surm, Eivind A.B. Undheim, Bruno Madio, Brett R. Hamilton, Shaodong Guo, Dorothy C.C. Wai, Victoria L. Coyne, Matthew J. Phillips, Kevin J. Dudley, David A. Hurwood, Gyorgy Panyi, Glenn F. KingAna Pavasovic, Raymond S. Norton, Peter J. Prentis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The ShK toxin from Stichodactyla helianthus has established the therapeutic potential of sea anemone venom peptides, but many lineage-specific toxin families in Actiniarians remain uncharacterised. One such peptide family, sea anemone 8 (SA8), is present in all five sea anemone superfamilies. We explored the genomic arrangement and evolution of the SA8 gene family in Actinia tenebrosa and Telmatactis stephensoni, characterised the expression patterns of SA8 sequences, and examined the structure and function of SA8 from the venom of T. stephensoni. 

Results: We identified ten SA8-family genes in two clusters and six SA8-family genes in five clusters for T. stephensoni and A. tenebrosa, respectively. Nine SA8 T. stephensoni genes were found in a single cluster, and an SA8 peptide encoded by an inverted SA8 gene from this cluster was recruited to venom. We show that SA8 genes in both species are expressed in a tissue-specific manner and the inverted SA8 gene has a unique tissue distribution. While the functional activity of the SA8 putative toxin encoded by the inverted gene was inconclusive, its tissue localisation is similar to toxins used for predator deterrence. We demonstrate that, although mature SA8 putative toxins have similar cysteine spacing to ShK, SA8 peptides are distinct from ShK peptides based on structure and disulfide connectivity. 

Conclusions: Our results provide the first demonstration that SA8 is a unique gene family in Actiniarians, evolving through a variety of structural changes including tandem and proximal gene duplication and an inversion event that together allowed SA8 to be recruited into the venom of T. stephensoni.

Original languageEnglish
Article number121
Number of pages25
JournalBMC Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2023


  • Disulfide connectivity
  • Genome
  • Neofunctionalization
  • Peptide synthesis
  • Sea anemone
  • Toxin evolution

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