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Toxic Circumstances

Using Bioinformatics to Understand Natural Selection

Co Authors:

Parks Collins
Natural Science
Mitchell Community College

Jason Macrander
Department of Biology
Florida Southern College


This interrupted case study tells the true story of Karl P. Schmidt, a herpetologist and museum curator who was bitten by a venomous snake in 1957. Like a true scientist, Schmidt recorded notes about his symptoms until the very end when he died. Students will examine information about his death in order to learn how venom pathways are related to genes, transcription, and translation. By studying venom pathways, students will examine the relationship between natural selection and the genetic and molecular processes responsible for generating the observed diversity in toxin composition and action. The final two sections of the case focus on bioinformatics. Students will explore the fields of genomics, proteomics, and systems biology by analyzing venom proteins using the Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST). Originally designed for a general biology course for majors, the case is also suitable for a non-majors biology class.

  • Develop a deeper knowledge of transcription, translation, and protein synthesis.
  • Define gene duplication.
  • Recognize that snake venom has multiple components that have different effects on body function.
  • Search for specific proteins in BLAST site.
  • Analyze BLAST results.
Keywords: Venom; snake; bioinformatics; evolution; toxin; natural selection; boomslang; snake; Dispholidus typus; BLAST; Weiss; Karl P. Schmidt
Topical Area: Ethics, Scientific argumentation
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Bioinformatics   Biology (General)   Ecology   Evolutionary Biology   Molecular Biology   Biochemistry  
Date Posted: 5/16/2019
Date Modified:
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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Supplemental Materials

Students will need to upload the following two files to the NCBI website. Note that these simple text  files may need to be renamed with the file extension *.fasta. In other words, rename Boomslang_Protein.txt to Boomslang_Protein.fasta, and Boomslang_Transcriptome.txt to Boomslang_Transcriptome.fasta.

  Boomslang_Protein.txt (~6 KB)
  Boomslang_Transcriptome.txt (~ 2.6 MB)

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