The mystery of the volcanic snail and its iron shell has been unraveled by scientists after its genome was first decoded.
The scaly snail (Chrysomallon squamiferum) survives in what researchers have called the “impossible living conditions” of underwater volcanic vents.
Resistant to hot temperatures, high pressure, high acidity and low oxygen, it is the only living creature known to incorporate iron into its skeleton.
His study will reveal the secrets of the evolution of early childhood, scientists hope, as well as the release of its “enormous potential” for medicine and other applications.
And now, a team from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has made a breakthrough by decoding its genome for the first time.
The team identified 25 “transcription factors” – proteins that directly interpret the genome – that contribute to the production of tissue-strengthening minerals.
The mystery of a volcanic snail and its iron shell has been unraveled by scientists after its genome was first decoded. Chrysomallon squamiferum inhabits hydrothermal vents in deep water with almost impossible living conditions
Researchers collected 20 scale snails about 2,900 meters below sea level in the Indian Ocean.
Among their findings, a genetic clue to the metal armor of the snail was revealed by comparing two populations – one from an iron-rich environment and the other from an iron-poor environment.
“We have found that a gene, called MTP – metal tolerance protein – 9, shows a 27-fold increase in the population with iron sulfide mineralization compared to that without,” said Dr. Sun Jin.
“This protein has been suggested to improve tolerance to metal ions.”
Scientists believe that this tolerance allows snails to survive when the iron ions in their environment react with the sulfur in their scales, creating iron sulfides.
Among their findings, a genetic clue to the metal armor of the snail was revealed by comparing two populations: one from an iron-rich environment and the other from an iron-poor environment. The photo shows a tortoiseshell snail from an iron-poor environment
The researchers who made this breakthrough hope that the scaly-footed snail will reveal the secrets of the evolution of early childhood and believe it has potential for medicine and other applications. The photo shows a scaly snail in an iron-rich environment
As this occurs at significantly lower temperatures than in the laboratory, research could even have industrial applications.
“The discovery of the genome of this snail advances our knowledge of the genetic mechanism of molluscs, laying the genetic foundation that paves the way for application,” said Dr. Qian Peiyuan.
“ One possible direction now is how their iron-covered shells withstand heavy blows, which can provide us with information on how to make more protective armor. ”
The photo shows the scale snail near the hydrothermal vent, which is home to a varied amount of creatures, including microorganisms
The photo shows a hydrothermal vent surrounded by crustaceans. The snail was discovered in the iron rich Kairei hydrothermal vent field in the Indian Ocean in 2001
The researchers were also surprised to find that the snail did not have completely unique genes, despite its unique characteristics, the same genes also being present in other molluscs such as squid and pearl oyster.
“Although no new genes have been identified, our research provides valuable insight into the combination of genes that define the morphology of a species,” said Dr. Qian.
It has been theorized that life could have started at hydrothermal vents.
In addition, the snail gene sequence has remained almost unchanged throughout its evolution, its armor-like scales being common in gastropods over 540 million years ago.
the team from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology including Dr Qian Peiyuan, with the snail, and Dr Sun Jin, on the left
Scientists therefore believe that its study may also shed new light on the evolution of life during past geological periods.
And while the world’s forests have often been searched for medicines, the ocean remains largely untapped, with the unique life forms of deep sea vents being considered particularly promising.
The HKUST team therefore believes that their work could also open the way to “potential remedies” in the field of medicine.
Hydrothermal vents house a diverse amount of creatures that have enormous potential for biomedical applications, including microorganisms.
The study was published in Nature Communications.
THE ECOLOGICAL FOOD SNAIL AT RISK SURVIVAL IN INCREDIBLE LIVING CONDITIONS
The scaly-footed snail (Chrysomallon squamiferum) was discovered in the iron-rich Kairei hydrothermal ventilation field in the Indian Ocean in 2001.
The tortoiseshell snail, also known as the “sea pangolin”, is of particular interest to marine scientists for its ability to withstand high pressures, temperatures and acidity.
The rare snail inhabits what scientists have called “ the origin of life ” – hydrothermal vents in deep water with almost impossible living conditions.
It is the only known existing animal which incorporates iron sulfide in its skeleton.
The species has been found at depths of approximately 1.5 to 1.7 miles (2,400 to 2,800 meters) in the Indian Ocean.
It is the only living gastropod that has armor-like scales – a very common feature for gastropods in the Cambrian more than 540 million years ago.
It is currently listed as “endangered” on the IUCN Red List, the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species.
Although it was first discovered in 2001, it has been described and named in a research paper only in 2015.