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Gila monster genomics: conservation, venom, and treatments for Type-II diabetes

Backed by Ty Park, St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, Kirk Michael Maxey, Michael Cardwell, Mark Seward, Manuel Ares, Jr., Joshua Drew, Chad Harland, Susan Hayden, Mark F. Miller, and 151 other backers
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona
BiologyMedicine
DOI: 10.18258/6717
Grant: Animal Superpower Challenge
$10,101
Raised
116%
Funded on 4/30/16
Successfully Funded
  • $10,101
    pledged
  • 116%
    funded
  • Funded
    on 4/30/16

About This Project

The Gila monster, with its distinctive black and orange pattern, is one of Arizona’s most iconic animals. A peptide from its saliva has inspired treatments for diabetes, but Gila monsters are currently threatened by habitat destruction and poaching. Surprisingly there is no Gila monster genome. By sequencing and analyzing Gila monster DNA, we will contribute critical knowledge and resources for the study of Gila monster venom in medical genetics and for their conservation.

Ask the Scientists

Join The Discussion

What is the context of this research?

I've studied mammalian genomes for the last 11 years. When I started at Arizona State University my lab was set up next to Dale DeNardo (collaborator) who has studied Gila monsters for much of his career. I quickly realized these creatures are incredible, and I was shocked that we didn't know more about their genetics. Synthetic forms of exendin-4, a peptide from Gila monster saliva which might be a component of their venom, are now being used successfully for treating Type II diabetes. But, in all the excitement about the drug, we don't know the Gila monster genome sequence, how this salivary protein changes across species, or how much genetic diversity Gila monsters have in the wild (and whether we should be more actively conserving them). Thus, our push into Gila monster genomics!

What is the significance of this project?

The next closest related species to the Gila monster with a genome is the anole lizard. With this we can learn about genes shared between Gila monsters and anoles, but not DNA unique to the Gila monster. There is so much variation (between individuals, between sexes, and within the species) in Gila monsters that we know nothing about. By analyzing one individual in depth to make a scaffold reference genome, and several individuals to quantify variation, we will build a body of knowledge about Gila monsters that is currently completely undocumented. With the results of this project we can generate markers for conservation research, investigate Gila monster population history, and investigate what makes its saliva so unique and useful for treating Type-II diabetes.

What are the goals of the project?

We will generate high quality reference genome scaffolds from a single individual that can be aligned with other available reptile genomes. Using this alignment we will investigate the evolution of genes in Gila monster venom. We will also generate DNA sequences from three male and three female Gila monsters that we will use to identify sex-linked regions and characterize genetic variation across Gila monsters. We will write up each of these analyses for publication in open-access journals, making the results and all code used to generate the results publicly available.

Budget

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Experiment.com is an all-or-nothing platform, so we're going to work in small pieces. Our initial goal is to raise funds to generate two essential pieces of a larger project with the goal of characterizing the Gila monster genome.

First Goal (FUNDS RAISED): (A) Sequence one reference individual (two lanes of sequencing with different library sizes) as the first steps toward building the reference genome. (B) Sequence DNA from three male and three female Gila monsters to allow us to investigate genetic variation among individuals, and to characterize their sex chromosomes.

Second Goal: Sequence RNA from three males and three females to investigate sex-biased gene expression.

Endorsed by

I am very excited that Dr. Sayres and her colleagues are teaming up to sequence the genome of Heloderma suspectum and am honored to endorse the project. The knowledge that will be gained from this project will not only allow us to better understand genetic and evolutionary relationships, but will yield discoveries we haven't even thought of yet.
Sequencing the Gila Monster genome will provide an important additional data point for studies of genome evolution in non-avian reptiles -- a group that is underrepresented in current vertebrate genome sequencing efforts. Additionally, the Gila Monster genome will provide more detailed information to help studies of venom evolution, sex chromosomes, and new drugs to treat diabetes. Dr. Wilson Sayres and colleagues are uniquely qualified (and located) to accomplish this novel research. Good luck!
Sequencing the Gila Monster genome will advance knowledge of vertebrate genome evolution, enhance our understanding of venom evolution in squamates (the lizards and snakes), and enable further development of drugs and therapies from Gila Monster venom. Additionally, the experimental design will allow Dr. Wilson Sayres and her team to study Gila Monster sex chromosomes. What a cool project!
Sequencing the Gila monster genome is the first step to broadening our understanding of these amazing and secretive animals. Having a sequenced genome for Gila monsters will be an important resource for a wide variety of scientists with applications for human health, species conservation, investigating the evolution of venom, and much more. Dr. Wilson Sayres and the team at Arizona State University have the expertise to conduct this study I am personally very excited to see this project completed.
This is an outstanding project with potential for major scientific impact that will also provide strong training opportunities in genomics for students at all levels (this lab has a great record on undergraduate student training!), and be a wonderful avenue for scientific communication and outreach!

Meet the Team

Melissa Wilson Sayres
Melissa Wilson Sayres
Assistant Professor

Affiliates

Genomics, Evolution, and Bioinformatics, School of Life Sciences; Center for Evolution and Medicine, The Biodesign Institute Arizona State University
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Dale DeNardo
Dale DeNardo
Associate Professor

Affiliates

School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University
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Shawn Rupp
Shawn Rupp
M.S Student

Affiliates

School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University
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Kimberly Olney
Kimberly Olney
PhD student

Affiliates

School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University
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George A Brusch IV
George A Brusch IV
Graduate Student

Affiliates

Arizona State University
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Tim Webster
Tim Webster
Postdoctoral Scholar

Affiliates

Arizona State University
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Pooja Narang
Pooja Narang
Assistant Research Scientist

Affiliates

Arizona State University
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Sarah Brotman
Sarah Brotman
Undergraduate Researcher

Affiliates

Arizona State University
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Daniel Cotter
Daniel Cotter
Undergraduate Researcher

Affiliates

Arizona State University
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Ephrance Peninah Kalungi
Ephrance Peninah Kalungi
Undergraduate Researcher

Affiliates

Arizona State University
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Valeria Valverde-Vesling
Valeria Valverde-Vesling
Undergraduate Researcher

Affiliates

School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University
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Team Bio

We are a group of Gila monster enthusiasts! Dr. Melissa Wilson Sayres and Dr. Dale DeNardo, along with their lab members, are thrilled to be collaborating on the Gila Monster genome. This project involves undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral trainees in all stages of the research, including genomics analysis and interpretation.

Melissa Wilson Sayres

I am a computational and evolutionary biologist. Basically, I use computers to analyze large datasets to understand biological processes. Primarily I focus on investigating why mutation rates differ between males and females, what we can learn about the history of modern species by characterizing genetic variation across their genomes, and how sex chromosomes change through time.

Dale DeNardo

All my life I have been fascinated by Gila monsters, and for the last 16 years I have been fortunate enough to study their physiological ecology, adding considerably to our understanding of the biology of this species. I am excited about this opportunity to add a valuable tool to further study this icon of the American Southwest.

Shawn Rupp

I am a bioinformatician who studies the sex chromosomes of Squamate reptiles. I am primarily interested in understanding the evolutionary relationships of organisms, and I am also interested in applying what I learn to conservation biology.

Kimberly Olney

Biologist with experience in data analysis and laboratory procedures. Research interest in patterns of allele-specific expression across the human genome and studying sex biased expression.

George A Brusch IV

I am interested in how immune responses fluctuate in response to various stimuli from the environment.

Tim Webster

My research centers around evolutionary and population genomics. Essentially, I use signals in the genome to better understand the evolutionary and population histories of various organisms. I'm very excited to have the opportunity to work on the genome of one of my favorite species, the Gila monster. I have long been interested in the evolution and composition of Gila monster venom and also look forward to using information from this genome to try to disentangle evolutionary relationships among the various groups of lizards and snakes.

Pooja Narang

My research interests include understanding male mutation bias and understanding the evolution of sex chromosomes.

Sarah Brotman

Biological Sciences and Forensics double major.

Daniel Cotter

Biological Sciences Major

Ephrance Peninah Kalungi

Biomedical sciences major.

Valeria Valverde-Vesling

Biological Sciences (Genetics, Cell & Developmental Biology)
Undergraduate Researcher and IMSD Fellow

Additional Information

********************* Backer Rewards! *********************

We are offering backer rewards that we'll send independently of Experiment.com

$25 donation (unlimited): We will email you the full quality version of the Gila monster genome digital logo:


$100 donation (0 available of 10 signed copies - ALL GONE! ): A signed copy of Daniel D. Beck's book, Biology of Gila Monsters and Beaded Lizards.

******** Additional fascinating facts about the Gila monster ********

  • There is no anti-venom for Gila monster bites.
  • Gila monsters can eat up to 1/3 their body weight at one time and store fat in their tails.
  • Gila monsters store water in the urinary bladder that they can reabsorb during times of drought.
  • Gila monster habitats are being destroyed.
  • Gila monster can have a 1-square mile range (1.6 square km), and typically do not survive if relocated.
  • Gila monsters have sex chromosomes, but they are just the opposite of humans (female Gila monsters have one big sex chromosome and one small degraded one like typical human males).

Project Backers

  • 173Backers
  • 116%Funded
  • $10,101Total Donations
  • $58.39Average Donation
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