Animal venom, secreted in specialized organs, is an outstanding evolutionary innovation. Venom is a complex mixture of compounds used to disrupt essential processes in target organisms.
Venom evolution could be driven by the ecological or coevolutionary arms race between prey and predator.
Scorpions, as ancient venomous animals rich in toxins affecting ion channels, are excellent candidates to study venom evolution.
Using transcriptomics and proteomics, along with HLPC, we study the diversity of components in scorpion venom, and their effect on specific animals.
Also, we are studying the evolutionary dynamics of toxic components in scorpions using bioinformatics and comparative methods.
Our results suggest that scorpion venom has evolved independently in the two major lineages since they diversified almost 400 million years ago.
Scorpion pectines are unique among the great diversity of appendages in arthropods. These appendages, located ventrally on the third segment of the opisthosoma, serve as chemosensory and mechanosensory receptors. We study the genetic development of these appendages using techniques such as in situ hybridization, immunochemistry, and appendage transcriptomes in the scorpion species Centruroides sculpturatus Ewing, 1928. Our research plans also include the genetic development of venom glands in arachnids using similar methodologies but including gene knockdown in spiders.
WIith over 2400 species worldwide, scorpions are considered part of the mesodiverse arachnids. We study the systematics of diplocentrid scorpions, which are distributed in America mainly, but with some representatives in the Middle East. In addition, we are collaborating with Rodrigo Monjaraz in the systematics of the schizomid family Protoschizomidae. Our research also aims to explore the evolutionary history of arachnids in relation to the complex history of deserts, mainly in North America. Lastly, using phylogenetic comparative methods, we are untangling the evolution of the morphology in arachnids.
We are part of a great international collaboration network. Many of our current projects are possible due to the common effort of different labs. Our genomics (comparative genomics and phylogenomics) and EvoDevo projects are conducted in parallel with our sister lab (Sharma lab) at UW-Madison. On the other hand, our phylogeographic and population genomic studies are possible due to our collaboration with Graham Biosciences at ECSU.
We are open to collaborations!