Understanding the rules of life

Category: CASE Studentships

Spider venomics – understanding the genomics of venom in spiders

Project No. 2423


Primary Supervisor

Dr Marta Farré Belmonte – University of Kent


Prof Adam Eyre-Walker – University of Sussex

Dr Mark Wass – University of Kent


More than 44,500 spider species are currently described, occupying habitats from the most arid deserts to the extreme Arctic, owing to broad physiological adaptations and diverse behaviours.

The significant ecological impact of spiders as predators, for example, in top-down control of insects and pests in natural and managed ecosystems is tightly linked to the use of lethal venom to subdue prey, which in combination with the production of silk webs facilitates efficient prey capture at minimum energetic cost. These adaptations allow spiders to catch prey as much as seven times their own body weight, an astonishing ratio for predators across all taxa. Spider venom attracts wide interest because of its biochemical and structural properties, pharmacological applications and the pathophysiological impact on humans following bites. Venoms have the potential to become a transformative technology in agriculture and human health. Venom neurotoxins target specific types of insect ion channels and receptors and have wide applied potential as insecticides in pest control. Some venoms are currently being investigated as drugs in cancer therapy and in cosmetic treatments. However, the lack of available spider genomes assembled at chromosome level is hindering the correct construction of phylogenetic relationships within the clade and impeding the identification of venom genes, proteins, and peptides.

In this project, the student will work in collaboration with Venomtech, the lead UK-based company on the production of new spider venoms, to sequence and analyse spider genomes and investigate the evolution of venom genes within the clade. Combining wet-lab and bioinformatics, the student will gain extensive training in state-of-the-art technologies, including long-read nanopore sequencing, and will develop new bioinformatics algorithms to understand genome evolution. This project will generate large amounts of data (genomics and transcriptomics) and increase our knowledge not only on the spider clade biodiversity but also pinpoint potential new venoms to transform the venom industry market.

Student profile: This project would suit a student interested in bioinformatics and genomics, with some prior knowledge of programming in R or Python.