The primary question of my dissertation is, “Does venom possess a microbiome specific to it as an ecosystem, and why?” Given the limited amount of literature on venom microbiomes, I selected the California Cone Snail, Californiconus californicus as a proposed, wild model system for studying venom-microbe interactions in the process of investigating hypothesized microbial interactions with host venom.
First, I present a data-driven approach for how sampling sites of venomous animals of interest can be selected in conjunction with the current trend to rely on anecdotal information. This work integrates curated museum collections, crowd-sourced data through digital mediums, knowledge through scientific literature, and personal research. This segment delves deeper into our understanding of C. californicus across space and time, dating back to the Pleistocene. We identify relationships between shell morphology and temperature, contributing foundational knowledge for this species and prospective context of venom microbiome coevolution.
Second, I characterize the seawater and sediment coastal microbial ecology of the initial known sampling site (Puerto Nuevo, Mexico) in which this species is commonly found. We sampled several sites along a gradient of exposure to urbanization (0.45 km) and characterized the core microbial communities for archaea, bacteria, and microbial eukaryotes using 16S and 18S amplicon sequencing. While only representing one time point and location, our experimental design allows us to demonstrate consistency in the literature in that we identify functionally relevant microbial taxa specific to different environmental types and distance. This work contributes as a preliminary example for the determination of how and where microbes in the venom may be sourced from the wild.
Third, I outline the main findings of the venom microbiome for C. californicus. Model organisms used today are common, simplified points of reference for downstream application. The California Cone Snail is a commonly found neogastropod along the California-Baja coast by the 100s. It can be cultured and maintained in a laboratory, acting well for experiments in the wild and in vivo or in vitro. We sampled C. californicus for three major sites for geographical variation: Puerto Nuevo, San Diego, and Monterey. We sampled summer, winter, and summer again, as well as three consecutive days in Puerto Nuevo for temporal variation. We sampled adult and eggs to compare microbial communities across life stage. We then compared venom microbial communities in a lab setting by testing for different hydrostatic pressures, axenic conditions, and exposure to prey. In summary, we find a specific microbial community (16S and 18S) found in and along the venom gland when compared to other environments, tissues, and conditions.
Finally, I tie extensions of science outreach together with scientific practice through communication, education, policy, and the first venom-microbe consortium. These initiatives act as proof-of-concept for strengths in democratically practiced open-source, interdisciplinary research through inclusion across demographics and educational and professional stages.