Most species within the genus Conus are considered to be specialists in their consumption of prey, typically feeding on molluscs, vermiform invertebrates or fish, and employ peptide toxins to immobilize prey. Conus californicus Hinds 1844 atypically utilizes a wide range of food sources from all three groups. Using DNA- and protein-based methods, we analyzed the molecular diversity of C. californicus toxins and detected a correspondingly large number of conotoxin types. We identified cDNAs corresponding to seven known cysteine-frameworks containing over 40 individual inferred peptides. Additionally, we found a new framework (22) with six predicted peptide examples, along with two forms of a new peptide type of unusual length. Analysis of leader sequences allowed assignment to known superfamilies in only half of the cases, and several of these showed a framework that was not in congruence with the identified superfamily. Mass spectrometric examination of chromatographic fractions from whole venom served to identify peptides corresponding to a number of cDNAs, in several cases differing in their degree of posttranslational modification. This suggests differential or incomplete biochemical processing of these peptides. In general, it is difficult to fit conotoxins from C. californicus into established toxin classification schemes. We hypothesize that the novel structural modifications of individual peptides and their encoding genes reflect evolutionary adaptation to prey species of an unusually wide range as well as the large phylogenetic distance between C. californicus and Indo-Pacific species.
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