This aspect of my work has been a long-standing interest and involves the greatest synthesis between ecology/evolution and protein biochemistry. Many of my publications and projects involving graduates and undergraduates fall under this general heading, and it has been a very successful and rewarding line of investigation. Specific questions addressed include: 1) Why are venoms, particularly rattlesnake venoms, so complex biochemically? 2) What interactions are there between venom composition and diet/feeding behaviors/activity patterns of these snakes? 3) How have these complex mixtures evolved, and what are the selective pressures favoring them? Many projects have been derived from this basic area, including the following:
- Analysis of the venom from brown treesnakes ( Boiga irregularis ) of Guam . The brown treesnake is an invasive species which has created ecological havoc on the small island of Guam , and it is responsible for numerous human envenomations. With support from the USGS-BRD, we are dissecting (biochemically and physiologically) the numerous activities in this venom and identifying all dominant proteins in the venom. Three graduate students are currently involved in this work.
- Survey of the composition of colubrid rear-fanged snake venoms . Unlike the front-fanged snakes, rear-fanged snakes and their venoms have not received much attention from either biochemists/toxicologists or vertebrate biologists. This diverse and worldwide group of snakes promises to hold a variety of interesting biological compounds which may be of interest from an evolutionary or a biomedical perspective. As above, this area has involved several undergraduate and graduate students and I am looking for another graduate student to work on this project.
- Serine and metalloproteases from rattlesnake and colubrid snake venoms. Many of the proteolytic enzymes in venoms have actions which interfere with hemostasis, and some metalloproteases are quite similar in their actions to tumor invasive factors. This area has direct application to control of clotting disorders, acute hypertension and cancer biology. An Honors Biology student is currently involved in this project.