Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Evolution At A Snail’s Pace


Littorina saxatilis

Most visitors to the seaside are content to ride donkeys, eat ice cream, and build sandcastles. But, University of Leeds scientists have no time for sunbathing; they are witnessing the birth of a new species on the rocky shores of North Yorkshire.

Littorina saxatilis (right) is an unremarkable rough periwinkle – a small, grey-brown sea-snail which litters the coast by the million. But it has overcome its lack of charisma and grabbed the attention of scientists trying to unlock the secrets of evolution.

Biologist John Grahame (left) said: “This is an example of evolution in action, and we are increasingly certain that we are seeing one species become two.”

Evolution is a slow business at the best of times, and the process of speciation – the division of one species into two – takes millennia. The best scientists can hope to see is that two forms or ‘morphs’ within a species are moving apart, and becoming genetically distinct.

Down on beaches at Flamborough, Filey Brigg and Ravenscar, Dr Grahame and colleagues have shown that there are two distinct morphs of L. saxatilis inhabiting different parts of the beach, and the basis for the difference is genetic.

The really exciting development – the holy grail of speciation – is evidence that the morphs are becoming reproductively isolated and no longer freely interbreeding. Individual snails prefer to mate with others of the same morph, and when interbreeding does happen, the viability of the young is reduced.

“There are alternative explanations”, says Dr. Grahame, “and the process could easily be reversed. The point of no return, when we can truly say a new species has been born, will come when there is no interbreeding at all, and no gene flow between the morphs.”

The researchers are currently analysing genetic differences between morphs, and aim to relate the DNA sequence differences to physical characteristics.

Rough periwinkles are a favourite food of crabs, and it is likely that the two morphs use different strategies to stay off the menu. Crab ‘resistors’ are the thick shelled morph, found low on the beach where crabs are common, while thin shelled crab ‘avoiders’ are found higher up the shore.

This shows remarkable similarity to the evolutionary history of other periwinkles, such as the flat periwinkle species found in our waters, one of which is a crab avoider, the other a crab resistor. Dr. Grahame believes Littorina saxatillis is following slowly in their footsteps.

Vanessa Bridge | alfa
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Don't Give the Slightest Chance to Toxic Elements in Medicinal Products
23.03.2018 | Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB)

nachricht North and South Cooperation to Combat Tuberculosis
22.03.2018 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>