The “Micromelo undatus”, a tiny sea snail of striking colors present on the coast of Gran Canaria, chooses to be designated this Thursday “International Clam of the Year”a recognition whose reward consists of sequencing its genome and thus helping to unravel information about its genetic composition and evolution.
What beauty is this? the presentation page of the five finalists to 2023 International Molluscuma competition organized by the Senckenberg Nature Research Society in collaboration with the LOEWE Center for Translational Biodiversity Genomics and the Worldwide Society for Mollusc Research (Unitas Malacologica).
“And the the only competition in the world in which citizens have the opportunity to vote in the investigation of which organism or species they want to spend the public money to which the award was attributed”, explains in an interview the researcher Aketza Herrero-Barrencua, from the Department of Biology at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC).
An investigation that shares with Carles Galiafrom the University of Barcelona (UB), in its Genetics department, and from the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio), in the part corresponding to the Mediterranean.
“This species is a jewel that everyone would like to find”, continues the page of its application, where it is explained that it is a unique species, which appeared 200 million years agoit lives in shallow waters, up to 10 meters, and its tiny shell of less than 25 millimeters is white, with thin red lines and geometric shape.
Aketza Herrero-Barrencua details that the Micromelo undatus is an amphiatlantic species from temperate waters. and ranges from Ascension Island and Macaronesia (Cape Verde, Canary and Azores archipelagos) to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, Saint Lucia, Jamaica, Curaçao and Brazil.
Although, «It is in several places on the island of Gran Canaria where we have observed over several years that they occur regularly and that, in some specific places, a large number of them occur punctually, coinciding with the breeding season”, he explains.
Between divers and underwater photographers this snail is very famous for presenting very characteristic and colorful mantle colors and shell patterns that make it “visually striking and photogenic”.
In this regard, he details that the hyaline mantle almost translucent It has white spots and a fuzzy bluish line around the edge that ends with a marked fluorescent yellow line.
The shell, small in relation to the mantle, is white with a very characteristic geometric pattern of fine red lines. Under ultraviolet light, it shows remarkable fluorescence.
Entering the scientific level, adds Aketza Herrero-Barrencua, it is a basal heterobranch mollusc, which makes it possible to establish phylogenetic relationships with slugs and snails, so that “by studying their genome we can elucidate hypotheses of evolutionary transitions between large groups, such as the evolution of slugs and snails (with the creation of the shell as a defense mechanism) and vice versa (again shell loss), and also the evolutionary transition between marine and terrestrial gastropod molluscs».
Most marine heterobranchs (slugs and snails) crawl along the bottom with their feature slowness, which makes them easy potential prey for predators to hunt and, therefore, the main defense mechanism they have developed is based on the assimilation of toxic metabolites from the diet (sponges, cnidarians, algae, diatoms, dinoflagellates, bryozoans and other marine invertebrates ).
In the case of Micromelo undatus, which have an omnivore dietit feeds mainly on algae, organic detritus, zooplankton and other small invertebrates, including polychaetes (a broad class of annelid worms).
A very common feature of organisms with this type of toxic defense is the aposematic coloring: Many of these species use bright and showy colors as an alert, points out the researcher.
And if Micromelus is chosen as the winner on the 23rd, he will receive the sequencing of his genome as recognition, a prize valued at around 10,000-20,000 euros, and in doing so would attempt to shed light on a myriad of phylogenetic, evolutionary, and ecological issues, among others.
sequence the genome of an animal species can provide a great deal of information about its genetic makeup and its evolution and some of the possible contributions are, with regard to the genetic makeupthey offer clues about the number of genes it has, their size and their organization.
This can help to understand how different genes interact to regulate biological processes in species, but it can also provide Information about the evolutionary relationship between different species and thus understand how species have adapted to different environments and how they have evolved over time.
Furthermore, the sequencing genome can help identify genetic mutations that may be related to disease and thus lead to the development of more accurate and personalized treatments.
Micromelus undatus presents a wide range of possibilities in terms of understanding mollusc evolution and unraveling the processes that led to the formation of distinctive structures and the transition of molluscs from aquatic to terrestrial environments, and has unique traits to study, such as the genes responsible for iridescent colors, glow mechanisms and ocean colonization.