The life of a sinistral snail

Jeremy the snail was first found minding his own business in a southwest London compost heap. Most would have overlooked Jeremy as an ordinary garden snail; in fact it’s undoubtedly the case that most of the other rare snails who have the single gene mutation that Jeremy possesses will have at best been ignored, and at worst stepped on by a commuter or murdered with metaldehyde. As it happens, Jeremy was discovered by a retired scientist from the Natural History museum who made an excited phone call to Angus Davison at the University of Nottingham, sweeping the mollusc off his single foot into a life of stardom and a scandalous love triangle. leftie-snail_650x400_61495249604

Jeremy was a true lefty (Image Source). His body plan was completely reversed, resembling the mirror image of an ordinary snail and giving him his characteristic anticlockwise spiral, a trait seen in only 1 in every 100,000 snails. While the good news is that Jeremy may have been statistically more likely to survive a snake attack, the bad news was that Jeremy had a much smaller pool of potential lovers than may be expected of someone of his celebrity status. Due to his mutation, his gypsobelum (the even sexier word for ‘love dart’) was on the opposite side of his body than the garden-variety garden snail. This meant the Jeremy could only reproduce if a lefty lover was located. His offspring could then be examined to answer the all important question: would their body plans be reversed like their parents? After a heartfelt plea accompanied by the hashtag: #snaillove, two potential companions were brought to Angus’s attention: first ‘Lefty’ from Ipswich and later ‘Tomeau’ from Mallorca (one of a surprising number of lefties found in the area).

Upon their introduction however, Jeremy’s pursuit of romance was thwarted when his two suitors decided to cop off with each other instead of him. Perhaps it was something he said. Perhaps it was something he didn’t say. Despite Jeremy’s broken heart, Lefty and Tomeau produced the valuable brood of offspring that were the endgame of the partner plea in the first place and the question was answered. The next generation of snails all had the standard, right handed body plan, implying that the mother snail must have possessed both a dominant, right-coiling and a recessive left-coiling version of the gene responsible for the production of formin. Lefty therefore likely got her own left coiling shell due to maternal effects from her mother who probably had two copies of the left-coiling gene. (Despite Lefty having the dominant gene for right-coiling within her own genotype, her shell spiralled to the left as it was controlled by her mother’s genome rather than hers during the stage of development in which shell coiling is determined).

After a few more batches offspring, Lefty and Tomeau eventually divorced when Lefty was sent back home to their owner. Romance finally blossomed for Jeremy as he and Tomeau decided to overlook their rocky past and finally mate with each other. Although Tomeau also had other mates at the same time, a fact that can only have contributed to the poor boy’s emotional roller-coaster, Jeremy was now the proud parent of an estimated 19 baby snails, all with right-handed coiling (Image Source).Jeremy-baby-StephanieHeyworth

As for the continuation of lefties, due to the nature of the gene encoding formin, it is estimated that crosses between the offspring of the love triangle are likely to produce more reverse chirality snails in future generations.

Shortly after his love story came to an end, so did the snail himself. After acting sluggish for a few days, Jeremy was put in a fridge to hopefully hibernate. Unfortunately he took it too far and was found dead on Wednesday the 11th of October. However, Jeremy will live on, not only as a shell preserved in the university’s Natural history collection, but also as a spooky mascot in this blog. I can only hope that the spirit of Jeremy will haunt me as I spend my masters year in Angus’s lab, staring at snails of my own which I will endeavour not to name as I am prone to attachment (but probably will anyway; at least internally).Jeremysmile


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