Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Doctoral Training Programme

The evolution and genetics of being sinister: from chiral shells to chiral cells


Lab rotation project description

The student will receive training in the basic techniques necessary to the   project. In the lab, this is likely to include an introduction to some of the   core techniques of molecular biology, including DNA extraction, PCR and DNA sequencing, as well as experiments in manipulating embryos. Subsequently, the student will be introduced to bioinformatic and phylogenetic methods, necessary to understand the relationship between the different populations and species. Depending upon the time of year of the rotation, local field work may also be possible.

Fact file

Research theme



Life Sciences


LR1, LR2 and LR3


2nd supervisor

BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Linked PhD Project Outline

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 a recent breakthrough published in Current Biology (26: 654-660), the Davison lab and collaborators in Scotland, Germany and the USA   identified the one in a billion base pair change 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. The next stage of the project is to ‘unravel’ symmetry breaking at   the molecular and cellular level, in particular to find the set of genes that   first establish asymmetry, and ultimately, to define general rules for how   this is translated into creating left-right asymmetric snail shells and   vertebrate bodies. In this exciting and fast-moving, but quite flexible   project, the student will seek to understand why snails routinely vary in   their chirality, unlike any other animal group, and how this asymmetry is set   up. According to need and specific interests, the student will use the pond   snail system, perhaps undertake field work in other countries, and conduct   genetic and genomic research, from both developmental and evolutionary   perspectives. 

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Doctoral Training Programme

The University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

Tel: +44 (0) 115 8466946