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The genomic basis of chiral variation and speciation in mirror-image snails

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  • Full or part time
    Dr A Davison
    Dr A MacColl
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

While our bodies are bilaterally symmetric on the outside, the internal organs exhibit consistent, directional asymmetries in their position or anatomy, such that left/right positional errors are an important class of human birth defect, and in later life, numerous diseases affect seemingly symmetric organs in a lateralised fashion. However, while invariant left/right asymmetry appears to be the rule in nearly all animals, until recently it has not been clear if the path to asymmetry is conserved, or how/why the left/right axis is consistently set up in the same direction (e.g. heart to the left). In recent BBSRC funded research (Current Biology 26: 654-660), we identified the one in a billion base pair change in a formin gene that determines mirror image development (“chirality”) in the pond snail, finally identifying the first described locus that reverses the whole body structure of an animal. As we also showed that the same gene is similarly involved in setting up asymmetry in the frog, then our work that began in snails ultimately revealed one of the earliest common symmetry-breaking steps across the whole of the Bilateria.

A key problem with respect to understanding natural chiral variation is that the pond snail is one of the few snail species in which the causative mutation is pathological - only about a half of the offspring survive. In other species of snail, such as Japanese Euhadra, we have shown that formin is not involved in determining variation in chirality, but we have no idea what the genes are, nor the (almost) inconceivable means by which they are able to cause a switch in chirality without associated pathology. It is the ambitious aim of this project to identify the chirality locus in Euhadra, and to understand how it contributes to possible speciation. The project will most likely involve a range of techniques, from fieldwork in Japan/Hawaii to genomics and bioinformatics – with the balance determined by the interests of the student.

Training rotations for this project will allow students to learn skills directly relevant to the project, with substantial components of wet lab molecular genetics, physiology and bioinformatics.

Funding Notes

This project is available as part of a BBSRC DTP funded PhD course: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/bbdtp/available-projects/molecules-cells-and-organisms-2019/life-sciences-2019/the-genomic-basis-of-chiral-variation-and-speciation-in-mirror-image-snails.aspx

The deadline for applications to the BBSRC DTP is Tuesday 11 December 2018.

Applicants should have, or expect to get, a First Class or Upper Second degree or equivalent in a relevant subject. Further experience, including a Masters degree, is likely to be advantageous.


Davison A, McDowell GS, Holden JM, et al. (2016) Formin is associated with left-right asymmetry in the pond snail and the frog. Current Biology, 26, 654-660.

Richards PM, Morii Y, Kimura K, Hirano T, Chiba S, and Davison A (2017). Single-gene speciation: mating and gene flow between mirror-image snails. Evolution Letters, https://doi.org/10.1002/evl3.31

Richards PM, Liu MM, Lowe N, et al. (2013) RAD-Seq derived markers flank the shell colour and banding loci of the Cepaea nemoralis supergene. Molecular Ecology, 22, 3077-3089.

How good is research at University of Nottingham in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 90.86

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