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Snail shell coiling programmed by protein patterning

Snail shells coil in response to an lopsided protein gradient across their shell mantles, finds research in BioMed Central's open access journal EvoDevo. In contrast the shell mantle of limpets, whose shells do not coil, have a symmetrical pattern of the protein Decapentaplegic (Dpp).

There are many hundreds of different kinds of gastropods (slugs snail and limpets) - second only in number of species to insects. They have adapted to live on land as well as in fresh water and marine environments, and have altered their physiology to survive in different habitats and to exploit different niches. The ancestral snail is thought to have had a coiled shell but during evolution some snails have lost their shells to become slugs, and some, limpets and false limpets, have independently lost the ability to coil their shells.

In order to find out why some gastropods have straight and some have coiled shells researchers from the University of Tokyo looked at the pattern of Dpp during shell growth. Dpp was first identified in fruit flies where it is necessary for the correct development of limbs, wings and other organs – decapentaplegic describes the 15 things missing in the absence of the gene dpp. Dpp is also found in the shell gland of gastropods, an early structure which begins to form a developing shell. However its presence in the mantle, which takes over shell production as the animal develops, was unknown.

In all four animals tested, limpets Patella vulgata and Nipponacmea fuscoviridis, and the right-hand coiled pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis along with a sinistral coiled lab-developed snail, dpp expression matched shell shape. There was also a Dpp protein gradient spreading away from this which was also symmetrical in limpets but had left/right asymmetry for the pond snails, matching the handedness of shell coiling.

Keisuke Shimizu, who led this study, commented, "This molecular mechanism driving for shell coiling persists from early developmental stages though adult life as the shell is replaced. It also provides an explanation for how shell coiling has been lost several times during the evolution of gastropods by the relatively easy loss of asymmetric Dpp."

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Dr Hilary Glover
Scientific Press Officer, BioMed Central
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Notes to Editors
1. Left-right asymmetric expression of dpp in the mantle of gastropods correlates with asymmetric shell coiling
Keisuke Shimizu, Minoru Iijima, Davin HE Setiamarga, Isao Sarashina, Tetsuhiro Kudoh, Takahiro Asami, Edi Gittenberger and Kazuyoshi Endo

EvoDevo 2013, 4:15 doi:10.1186/2041-9139-4-15

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

2. EvoDevo publishes articles on a broad range of topics associated with the translation of genotype to phenotype in a phylogenetic context. Understanding the history of life, the evolution of novelty and the generation of form, whether through embryogenesis, budding, or regeneration are amongst the greatest challenges in biology. We support the understanding of these processes through the many complementary approaches that characterize the field of evo-devo.

3. BioMed Central is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector. @BioMedCentral

4. The Sunday Times University of the Year 2012-13, the University of Exeter is a Russell Group university and in the top one percent of institutions globally. It combines world-class research with very high levels of student satisfaction. Exeter has over 18,000 students and is ranked 7th in The Sunday Times University Guide, 10th in the UK in The Times Good University Guide 2012 and 10th in the Guardian University Guide.

Hilary Glover | EurekAlert!
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