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Concept: Mollusca


While components of the pathway that establishes left-right asymmetry have been identified in diverse animals, from vertebrates to flies, it is striking that the genes involved in the first symmetry-breaking step remain wholly unknown in the most obviously chiral animals, the gastropod snails. Previously, research on snails was used to show that left-right signaling of Nodal, downstream of symmetry breaking, may be an ancestral feature of the Bilateria [1, 2]. Here, we report that a disabling mutation in one copy of a tandemly duplicated, diaphanous-related formin is perfectly associated with symmetry breaking in the pond snail. This is supported by the observation that an anti-formin drug treatment converts dextral snail embryos to a sinistral phenocopy, and in frogs, drug inhibition or overexpression by microinjection of formin has a chirality-randomizing effect in early (pre-cilia) embryos. Contrary to expectations based on existing models [3-5], we discovered asymmetric gene expression in 2- and 4-cell snail embryos, preceding morphological asymmetry. As the formin-actin filament has been shown to be part of an asymmetry-breaking switch in vitro [6, 7], together these results are consistent with the view that animals with diverse body plans may derive their asymmetries from the same intracellular chiral elements [8].

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Animal, Symmetry, Mollusca, Gastropod shell, Snail


Over thirty years ago anecdotal accounts of the undescribed Larger Pacific Striped Octopus suggested behaviors previously unknown for octopuses. Beak-to-beak mating, dens shared by mating pairs, inking during mating and extended spawning were mentioned in publications, and enticed generations of cephalopod biologists. In 2012-2014 we were able to obtain several live specimens of this species, which remains without a formal description. All of the unique behaviors listed above were observed for animals in aquaria and are discussed here. We describe the behavior, body color patterns, and postures of 24 adults maintained in captivity. Chromatophore patterns of hatchlings are also shown.

Concepts: Biology, Ocean, Mollusca, Cuttlefish, Chromatophore, Cephalopod, Octopus


BACKGROUND: Various shapes of gastropod shells have evolved ever since the Cambrian. Although theoretical analyses of morphogenesis exist, the molecular basis of shell development remains unclear. We compared expression patterns of the decapentaplegic (dpp) gene in the shell gland and mantle tissues at various developmental stages between coiled-shell and non-coiled-shell gastropods. RESULTS: We analyzed the expression patterns of dpp for the two limpets Patella vulgata and Nipponacmea fuscoviridis, and for the dextral wild-type and sinistral mutant lineage of the pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis. The limpets had symmetric expression patterns of dpp throughout ontogeny, whereas in the pond snail, the results indicated asymmetric and mirror image patterns between the dextral and sinistral lineages. CONCLUSION: We hypothesize that Dpp induces mantle expansion, and the presence of a left/right asymmetric gradient of the Dpp protein causes the formation of a coiled shell. Our results provide a molecular explanation for shell, coiling including new insights into expression patterns in post-embryonic development, which should aid in understanding how various shell shapes are formed and have evolved in the gastropods.

Concepts: Gene, Developmental biology, Mollusca, Gastropod shell, Snail, Gastropoda, Lymnaea stagnalis, Limpet


Coleoid cephalopods have an elaborate camera eye whereas nautiloids have primitive pinhole eye without lens and cornea. The Nautilus pinhole eye provides a unique example to explore the module of lens formation and its evolutionary mechanism. Here, we conducted an RNA-seq study of developing eyes of Nautilus and pygmy squid. First, we found that evolutionary distances from the common ancestor to Nautilus or squid are almost the same. Although most upstream eye development controlling genes were expressed in both species, six3/6 that are required for lens formation in vertebrates was not expressed in Nautilus. Furthermore, many downstream target genes of six3/6 including crystallin genes and other lens protein related genes were not expressed in Nautilus. As six3/6 and its controlling pathways are widely conserved among molluscs other than Nautilus, the present data suggest that deregulation of the six3/6 pathway led to the pinhole eye evolution in Nautilus.

Concepts: Gene expression, Evolution, Eye, Lens, Mollusca, Crystallin, Cephalopod, Nautilus


The abalone Haliotis diversicolor is a good model for study of the settlement and metamorphosis, which are widespread marine ecological phenomena. However, information on the global gene backgrounds and gene expression profiles for the early development of abalones is lacking.

Concepts: Gene expression, Evolution, Molecular biology, Developmental biology, Mollusca, Abalone, Ass’s ear abalone


Dispersal has received growing attention in marine ecology, particularly since evidence obtained with up-to-date techniques challenged the traditional view. The dogwhelk Nucella lapillus L., a sedentary gastropod with direct development, is a good example: dispersal was traditionally assumed to be limited until studies with microsatellites disputed this idea. To shed some light on this controversy, the genetic structure of dogwhelk populations in northwest Spain was investigated with highly polymorphic AFLP markers giving special attention to the influence of hydrodynamic stress. In agreement with the expectations for a poor disperser, our results show a significant genetic structure at regional (<200 km) and areal scales (<15 km). However, the spatial genetic structure varied with wave-exposure in the present case study: IBD was evident under sheltered conditions but absent from the exposed area where genetic differentiation was stronger. Our results provide evidence that differences in wave-exposure can exert a detectable influence on the genetic structure of coastal organisms, even in species without a planktonic larva.

Concepts: DNA, Biology, Population, Mollusca, Dog whelk, Amplified fragment length polymorphism, Nucella, Gastropod shell


BACKGROUND: The inhabitants of deep-sea hydrothermal vents occupy ephemeral island-like habitats distributed sporadically along tectonic spreading-centers, back-arc basins, and volcanically active seamounts. The majority of vent taxa undergo a pelagic larval phase, and thus varying degrees of geographical subdivision, ranging from no impedance of dispersal to complete isolation, often exist among taxa that span common geomorphological boundaries. Two lineages of Bathymodiolus mussels segregate on either side of the Easter Microplate, a boundary that separates the East Pacific Rise from spreading centers connected to the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge. RESULTS: A recent sample from the northwest flank of the Easter Microplate contained an admixture of northern and southern mitochondrial haplotypes and corresponding alleles at five nuclear gene loci. Genotypic frequencies in this sample did not fit random mating expectation. Significant heterozygote deficiencies at nuclear loci and gametic disequilibria between loci suggested that this transitional region might be a ‘Tension Zone’ maintained by immigration of parental types and possibly hybrid unfitness. An analysis of recombination history in the nuclear genes suggests a prolonged history of parapatric contact between the two mussel lineages. We hereby elevate the southern lineage to species status as Bathymodiolus antarcticus n. sp. and restrict the use of Bathymodiolus thermophilus to the northern lineage. CONCLUSIONS: Because B. thermophilus s.s. exhibits no evidence for subdivision or isolation-by-distance across its 4000 km range along the EPR axis and Galapagos Rift, partial isolation of B. antarcticus n. sp. requires explanation. The time needed to produce the observed degree of mitochondrial differentiation is consistent with the age of the Easter Microplate (2.5 to 5.3 million years). The complex geomorphology of the Easter Microplate region forces strong cross-axis currents that might disrupt self-recruitment of mussels by removing planktotrophic larvae from the ridge axis. Furthermore, frequent local extinction events in this tectonically dynamic region might produce a demographic sink rather than a source for dispersing mussel larvae. Historical changes in tectonic rates and current patterns appear to permit intermittent contact and introgression between the two subspecies.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Species, Pacific Ocean, Hydrothermal vent, Mollusca, Galápagos Islands, East Pacific Rise


Externally shelled cephalopods were important elements in open marine habitats throughout Earth history. Paleotemperatures calculated on the basis of the oxygen isotope composition of their shells can provide insights into ancient marine systems as well as the ecology of this important group of organisms. In some sedimentary deposits, however, the aragonitic shell of the ammonite or nautilid is poorly or not preserved at all, while the calcitic structures belonging to the jaws are present. This study tests for the first time if the calcitic jaw structures in fossil cephalopods can be used as a proxy for paleotemperature. We first analyzed the calcitic structures on the jaws of Recent Nautilus and compared the calculated temperatures of precipitation with those from the aragonitic shell in the same individuals. Our results indicate that the jaws of Recent Nautilus are secreted in isotopic equilibrium, and the calculated temperatures approximately match those of the shell. We then extended our study to ammonites from the Upper Cretaceous (Campanian) Pierre Shale of the U.S. Western Interior and the age-equivalent Mooreville Chalk of the Gulf Coastal Plain. In the Pierre Shale, jaws occur in situ inside the body chambers of well-preserved Baculites while in the Mooreville Chalk, the jaw elements appear as isolated occurrences in the sediment and the aragonitic shell material is not preserved. For the Pierre Shale specimens, the calculated temperatures of well-preserved jaw material match those of well-preserved shell material in the same individual. Analyses of the jaw elements in the Mooreville Chalk permit a comparison of the paleotemperatures between the two sites, and show that the Western Interior is warmer than the Gulf Coast at that time. In summary, our data indicate that the calcitic jaw elements of cephalopods can provide a reliable geochemical archive of the habitat of fossil forms.

Concepts: Sedimentary rock, Cretaceous, Mollusca, Fossil, Cephalopod, Nautilus, Ammonite, Siphuncle


Nautilus is often used as an analogue for the ecology and behavior of extinct externally shelled cephalopods. Nautilus shell grows quickly, has internal growth banding, and is widely believed to precipitate aragonite in oxygen isotope equilibrium with seawater. Pieces of shell from a wild-caught Nautilus macromphalus from New Caledonia and from a Nautilus belauensis reared in an aquarium were cast in epoxy, polished, and then imaged. Growth bands were visible in the outer prismatic layer of both shells. The thicknesses of the bands are consistent with previously reported daily growth rates measured in aquarium reared individuals. In situ analysis of oxygen isotope ratios using secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) with 10 μm beam-spot size reveals inter- and intra-band δ18O variation. In the wild-caught sample, a traverse crosscutting 45 growth bands yielded δ18O values ranging 2.5‰, from +0.9 to -1.6 ‰ (VPDB), a range that is larger than that observed in many serial sampling of entire shells by conventional methods. The maximum range within a single band (~32 μm) was 1.5‰, and 27 out of 41 bands had a range larger than instrumental precision (±2 SD = 0.6‰). The results from the wild individual suggest depth migration is recorded by the shell, but are not consistent with a simple sinusoidal, diurnal depth change pattern. To create the observed range of δ18O, however, this Nautilus must have traversed a temperature gradient of at least ~12°C, corresponding to approximately 400 m depth change. Isotopic variation was also measured in the aquarium-reared sample, but the pattern within and between bands likely reflects evaporative enrichment arising from a weekly cycle of refill and replacement of the aquarium water. Overall, this work suggests that depth migration behavior in ancient nektonic mollusks could be elucidated by SIMS analysis across individual growth bands.

Concepts: Oxygen, Mass spectrometry, Isotope, Mollusca, Cephalopod, Oxygen isotope ratio cycle, Nautilus


Averaged demographic data from previously unfished populations of Nautilus and Allonautilus (Cephalopoda) provide a baseline to determine if a population is undisturbed and in “equilibrium” or is in “disequilibrium” as a result of fishery pressure. Data are available for previously undisturbed local nautiloid populations in Papua New Guinea, Australia, Indonesia, Fiji, Palau, American Samoa, New Caledonia and Vanuatu (total n = 2,669 live-caught, tagged and released animals). The data show that unfished populations average ~75% males and ~74% mature animals. By contrast, unpublished, anecdotal and historical records since 1900 from the heavily fished central Philippines have shown a persistent decline in trap yields and a change in demographics of N. pompilius. By 1979, a sample of fished live-caught animals (n = 353) comprised only ~28% males and ~27% mature animals. Continued uncontrolled trapping caused collapse of the fishery and the shell industry has moved elsewhere, including Indonesia. In addition, we show that estimated rates of population decline are offered by unpublished tag-release records in unfished Palau. These data show that patterns of trap yields and demographic differences between fished and unfished populations in relative age class and sex ratios can indicate disequilibria wrought by fisheries pressure that can render local populations inviable. Given adequate samples (n ≥100 live-caught animals), a threshold of <50% males and mature animals in fished populations should signal the need to initiate curative conservation initiatives. The current trajectory of uncontrolled nautiloid fisheries can only mean trouble and possibly extinction of local populations of this ancient, iconic molluscan lineage.

Concepts: Demography, Demographics, Papua New Guinea, Oceania, Demographic economics, Mollusca, New Guinea, Nautilus