Scientists in the UK at University of Nottingham are studying an ultra-rare garden snail they have named Jeremy for it is a one-in-a-million snail with an left-handed anti-clockwise spiralling shell and genitals located on the opposite side to the more common dextral snails.
Researchers want to understand whether this anti-clockwise shell is a result of a developmental glitch or whether this is a genuine inherited genetic trait. While this snail, which is a hermaphrodite, can reproduce on its own, scientists want it to reproduce through a mate because the offspring of two lefty snails would be far richer and more valuable to the scientific community.
Dr Angus Davison at the University and his colleagues have been studying snails for quite some time now and according to Davison they have never come across any such sinistral snail, with a left-handed anti-clockwise spiralling shell. The team is excited to continue their research with the snail and get to the root of what cause the snail to have such an anti-clockwise pattern.
Dr Davison added that while snails, which is a hermaphrodite, can reproduce on their own they really are not keen on it and from a scientific perspective genetic data from offspring of two lefty snails would be far richer and more valuable to the scientific community.
The snail was found around a compost heap in Rayne’s Park, South West London by a retired scientist from the Natural History Museum, who spotted its unique traits. Having heard about Dr Davison’s interest in snail genetics, he contacted the Nottingham scientist before sending it on – by snail mail.
Davison and team have already determined a gene that is said to dictate whether a snail’s shell twists in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. The same gene also affects body asymmetry in other animals – including humans – and research using these snails could offer the chance to develop our understanding of how organs are placed in the body and why this process can sometimes go wrong when some or all of the major internal organs are reversed from their normal placement.
Now the hunt is on for a second sinistral brown garden snail to mate with Jeremy and Dr Davison is appealing to the public to get involved by searching hedgerows, borders and plant pots for this rare variety of the common snail.
Researchers are asking people to get involved and find a mate for Jeremy. Dr Davison says that there is a chance because it is such a rare thing and anyone who can find and identify another of these sinistral snails may even find themselves named as a contributor on a research paper we publish in the future as a result of this.