Institute of Evolution and Ecology (EvE)

Snail-slug conversion

(funded by Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes)

The archetypal body plan of conchiferan molluscs is characterized by an external calcareous shell, though internalization of shells has evolved independently in a number of molluscan clades, including gastropod families. In gastropods, the developmental process of torsion is regarded as a hallmark that is associated with a new anatomical configuration. This configuration is present in extant prosobranch gastropod species, which predominantly bear external shells. Recently, we showed that short-term exposure to platinum during development uncouples at least two of the processes associated with torsion of the freshwater snail Marisa cornuarietis. That is, the anus of the treated snails is located anteriorly, but the gill and the designated mantle tissue remains in a posterior location, thus preventing the formation of an external shell. In contrast to the prosobranchian archetype, platinum treatment results in the formation of a posterior gill and a cone-shaped internal shell, which persists across the lifetime. This first finding of artificially induced snail-slug conversion can also be seen in the pulmonate snails Planorbarius corneus and Biomphalaria glabrata. It demonstrates that selective alteration of embryonic key processes can result in fundamental changes of an existing body plan and - if altered regulation is inherited - may give rise to a new one.

Publication: Osterauer et al. (2010): Evol Dev 12, 474-483

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