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Concept: Snail


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


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


Creating surfaces capable of resisting liquid-mediated adhesion is extremely difficult due to the strong capillary forces that exist between surfaces. Land snails use this to adhere to and traverse across almost any type of solid surface of any orientation (horizontal, vertical or inverted), texture (smooth, rough or granular) or wetting property (hydrophilic or hydrophobic) via a layer of mucus. However, the wetting properties that enable snails to generate strong temporary attachment and the effectiveness of this adhesive locomotion on modern super-slippy superhydrophobic surfaces are unclear. Here we report that snail adhesion overcomes a wide range of these microscale and nanoscale topographically structured non-stick surfaces. For the one surface which we found to be snail resistant, we show that the effect is correlated with the wetting response of the surface to a weak surfactant. Our results elucidate some critical wetting factors for the design of anti-adhesive and bio-adhesion resistant surfaces.

Concepts: Liquid, Wetting, Surface tension, Surface, Adhesion, Snail, Land snail


BACKGROUND: The risks of fish-borne zoonotic trematodes (FZT) to human health constitute an important problem in Vietnam. The infection of humans with these trematodes, such as small liver trematodes (Clonorchis sinensis and Opisthorchis viverrini), intestinal trematodes (Heterophyidae) and others is often thought to be linked to fish culture in areas where the habit of eating raw fish is common. Juvenile fish produced in nurseries are often heavily infected with FZT and since fishes are sold to aquaculture facilities for growth, control of FZT in these fishes should be given priority. Controlling the first intermediate host (i.e., freshwater gastropods), would be an attractive approach, if feasible. The black carp, Mylopharyngodon piceus, is a well-known predator of freshwater snails and is already used successfully for biological control of snails in various parts of the world including Vietnam. Here we report the first trials using it for biological control of intermediate host snails in nursery ponds stocked with 1-week old fry (10–12 mm in length) of Indian carp, Labeo rohita. METHODS: Semi-field and field experiments were set up to test the effect of black carp on snail populations. In the semi-field experiment a known quantity of snails was initially introduced into a pond which was subsequently stocked with black carp. In the field trial in nursery ponds, density of snails was estimated prior to a nursing cycle and at the end of the cycle (after 9 weeks). RESULTS: The results showed that black carp affect the density of snail populations in both semi-field and field conditions. The standing crop of snails in nursery ponds, however, was too high for 2 specimens to greatly reduce snail density within the relatively short nursing cycle. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that the black carp can be used in nursery ponds in Northern Vietnam for snail control. Juvenile black carp weighing 100 - 200g should be used because this size primarily prey on intermediate hosts of FZT and other studies have shown that it does not prey on fish fry of other species. It may be necessary to use a high stocking density of black carp or to reduce snail density in the nursery ponds using other measures (e.g. mud removal) prior to stocking fry in order for the black carp to keep the density of intermediate host snails at a very low level.

Concepts: Digenea, Carp, Cyprinidae, Aquaculture, Snail, Gastropoda, Red River Delta, Black carp


Although diet is believed to be a major factor underlying the evolution of venom, few comparative studies examine both venom composition and diet across a radiation of venomous species. Cone snails within the family, Conidae, comprise more than 700 species of carnivorous marine snails that capture their prey by using a cocktail of venomous neurotoxins (conotoxins or conopeptides). Venom composition across species has been previously hypothesized to be shaped by (a) prey taxonomic class (i.e., worms, molluscs, or fish) and (b) dietary breadth. We tested these hypotheses under a comparative phylogenetic framework using ecological data from past studies in conjunction with venom duct transcriptomes sequenced from 12 phylogenetically disparate cone snail species, including 10 vermivores (worm-eating), one molluscivore, and one generalist.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Snail, Gastropoda, Conus, Conidae, Radula, Conoidea


In vertebrates, the left-and-right pairs of homologous organs are generally present in equal numbers. A remarkable exception is snail-eating snakes in the family Pareidae: almost all the pareid snakes have much more teeth on the right mandible than on the left for functional specialization in feeding on the dextral majority of land snails. Because the only exceptional species with symmetric dentition has been regarded as a slug-eater, the extent of dietary specialization on slugs could shape the degree of the lateral asymmetry of mandibular dentition (dentition asymmetry) even among snail eaters.

Concepts: Left-wing politics, Mollusca, Snail, Slug


Predator-prey interactions are major processes promoting phenotypic evolution. However, it remains unclear how predation causes morphological and behavioural diversity in prey species and how it might lead to speciation. Here, we show that substantial divergence in the phenotypic traits of prey species has occurred among closely related land snails as a result of adaptation to predator attacks. This caused the divergence of defensive strategies into two alternatives: passive defence and active defence. Phenotypic traits of the subarctic Karaftohelix land snail have undergone radiation in northeast Asia, and distinctive morphotypes generally coexist in the same regions. In these land snails, we documented two alternative defence behaviours against predation by malacophagous beetles. Furthermore, the behaviours are potentially associated with differences in shell morphology. In addition, molecular phylogenetic analyses indicated that these alternative strategies against predation arose independently on the islands and on the continent suggesting that anti-predator adaptation is a major cause of phenotypic diversity in these snails. Finally, we suggest the potential speciation of Karaftohelix snails as a result of the divergence of defensive strategies into passive and active behaviours and the possibility of species radiation due to anti-predatory adaptations.

Concepts: Natural selection, Evolution, Causality, Species, Predation, Ecology, Lotka–Volterra equation, Snail


Autotomy of body parts offers various prey animals immediate benefits of survival in compensation for considerable costs. I found that a land snail Satsuma caliginosa of populations coexisting with a snail-eating snake Pareas iwasakii survived the snake predation by autotomizing its foot, whereas those out of the snake range rarely survived. Regeneration of a lost foot completed in a few weeks but imposed a delay of shell growth. Imprints of autotomy were found in greater than 10 per cent of S. caliginosa in the snake range but in only less than 1 per cent out of it, simultaneously demonstrating intense predation by the snakes and high efficiency of autotomy for surviving snake predation in the wild. However, in experiments, mature S. caliginosa performed autotomy less frequently. Instead of the costly autotomy, they can use defensive denticles on the inside of their shell apertures. Owing to the constraints from the additive growth of shells, most pulmonate snails can produce these denticles only when they have fully grown up. Thus, this developmental constraint limits the availability of the modified aperture, resulting in ontogenetic switching of the alternative defences. This study illustrates how costs of adaptation operate in the evolution of life-history strategies under developmental constraints.

Concepts: Lung, Predation, Mollusca, Gastropod shell, Snail, Snake, Pulmonata, Freshwater snail


Molluscs (snails, octopuses, clams and their relatives) have a great disparity of body plans and, among the animals, only arthropods surpass them in species number. This diversity has made Mollusca one of the best-studied groups of animals, yet their evolutionary relationships remain poorly resolved. Open questions have important implications for the origin of Mollusca and for morphological evolution within the group. These questions include whether the shell-less, vermiform aplacophoran molluscs diverged before the origin of the shelled molluscs (Conchifera) or lost their shells secondarily. Monoplacophorans were not included in molecular studies until recently, when it was proposed that they constitute a clade named Serialia together with Polyplacophora (chitons), reflecting the serial repetition of body organs in both groups. Attempts to understand the early evolution of molluscs become even more complex when considering the large diversity of Cambrian fossils. These can have multiple dorsal shell plates and sclerites or can be shell-less but with a typical molluscan radula and serially repeated gills. To better resolve the relationships among molluscs, we generated transcriptome data for 15 species that, in combination with existing data, represent for the first time all major molluscan groups. We analysed multiple data sets containing up to 216,402 sites and 1,185 gene regions using multiple models and methods. Our results support the clade Aculifera, containing the three molluscan groups with spicules but without true shells, and they support the monophyly of Conchifera. Monoplacophora is not the sister group to other Conchifera but to Cephalopoda. Strong support is found for a clade that comprises Scaphopoda (tusk shells), Gastropoda and Bivalvia, with most analyses placing Scaphopoda and Gastropoda as sister groups. This well-resolved tree will constitute a framework for further studies of mollusc evolution, development and anatomy.

Concepts: Phylogenetics, Mollusca, Snail, Bivalvia, Clam, Cephalopod, Octopus, Monoplacophora


Snails are highly unusual among multicellular animals in that they move on a layer of costly mucus, leaving behind a trail that can be followed and utilized for various purposes by themselves or by other animals. Here we review more than 40 years of experimental and theoretical research to try to understand the ecological and evolutionary rationales for trail-following in gastropods. Data from over 30 genera are currently available, representing a broad taxonomic range living in both aquatic and terrestrial environments. The emerging picture is that the production of mucus trails, which initially was an adaptation to facilitate locomotion and/or habitat extension, has evolved to facilitate a multitude of additional functions. Trail-following supports homing behaviours, and provides simple mechanisms for self-organisation in groups of snails, promoting aggregation and thus relieving desiccation and predation pressures. In gastropods that copulate, trail-following is an important component in mate-searching, either as an alternative, or in addition to the release of water- or air-borne pheromones. In some species, this includes a capacity of males not only to identify trails of conspecifics but also to discriminate between trails laid by females and males. Notably, trail discrimination seems important as a pre-zygotic barrier to mating in some snail species. As production of a mucus trail is the most costly component of snail locomotion, it is also tempting to speculate that evolution has given rise to various ways to compensate for energy losses. Some snails, for example, increase energy intake by eating particles attached to the mucus of trails that they follow, whereas others save energy through reducing the production of their own mucus by moving over previously laid mucus trails. Trail-following to locate a prey item or a mate is also a way to save energy. While the rationale for trail-following in many cases appears clear, the basic mechanisms of trail discrimination, including the mechanisms by which many snails determine the polarity of the trail, are yet to be experimentally determined. Given the multiple functions of trail-following we propose that future studies should adopt an integrated approach, taking into account the possibility of the simultaneous occurrence of many selectively advantageous roles of trail-following behaviour in gastropods. We also believe that future opportunities to link phenotypic and genotypic traits will make possible a new generation of research projects in which gastropod trail-following, its multitude of functions and evolutionary trade-offs can be further elucidated.

Concepts: Evolution, Phenotype, Sex, Mollusca, Gastropod shell, Snail, Gastropoda, Gastropods