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Sex and the pond snail

   
   
12 Nov 2008 11:28:00.000

PA 286/08

A third-year undergraduate student at The University of Nottingham has had her research into the sex life of the pond snail published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The study by Hayley Frend, who is a student in the School of Biology, was published today in the Royal Society Journal Biology Letters.

With a grant of £1500 from the Nuffield Foundation Hayley Frend has shown that just like humans the pond snail is genetically programmed to use the left or right handed side of its brain to perform different tasks.

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In the past it was naively presumed that only humans use different sides of their brains to carry out different tasks. Research has since shown that some vertebrates, such as fish, can use their brains in this way. And recently it has been shown that behavioural handedness is not just confined to vertebrates.

 

Hayley spent the summer in the laboratories at the Institute of Genetics studying the sex life and genetics of the pond snail, Lymnaea stagnalis. She has established that just like humans, snails also tend to have brains that produce ‘handed’ behaviour.

 

Her work, under the supervision of lecturer, Dr Angus Davison has shown that a handedness of the pond snail in their mating behaviour is matched by an asymmetry in the brain which is pre-programmed by its mother’s genes.

 

The pond snail nearly always has a right handed (dextral) to its shell but sometimes it is left handed (sinistral). As dextral snails circle anticlockwise and sinistral snails circle clockwise, an unusual consequence is that two ‘mirror image’ snails will circle in different directions and are frequently unable to mate.

 

Hayley’s Supervisor, Dr Angus Davison said: “It never fails to surprise me how research on a mere pond snail can contribute to an understanding of the way our own brain works. Lots of new research, not just my lab, is showing that the effective functioning of the brain, whether they are human, fish or invertebrates, requires that the separate halves of the brain dedicate themselves to separate functions. If this specialisation has evolved multiple times, then it is clearly a very important one for animals.”

 

Hayley said: “It was an invaluable experience for me to work in the lab over the summer, but I never expected that my work would be published so rapidly. I am so excited!”

 

The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charity committed to the careers of young scientists. Nottingham’s two science bursary schemes offer the opportunity for school & college pupils and undergraduates to gain an insight into the world of research through summer research placements. 

 

The work was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the grant holder and not those of the Foundation.

 

— Ends —

 

Notes to Editors:

 

The ID of the paper is RSBL-2008-0528.R1

 

The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 70 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THES) World University Rankings.

 

It provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia.  

Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation - School of Pharmacy).  

Its students are much in demand from 'blue-chip' employers. Winners of Students in Free Enterprise for four years in succession, and current holder of UK Graduate of the Year, they are accomplished artists, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators and fundraisers. Nottingham graduates consistently excel in business, the media, the arts and sport. Undergraduate and postgraduate degree completion rates are amongst the highest in the United Kingdom.  

For more information about the Nuffield Foundation please visit www.nuffieldfoundation.org

 

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Angus Davison on +44 (0)115 8230322, angus.davison@nottingham.ac.uk
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: lindsay.brooke@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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