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Sea snails break the law

Lizards gave rise to legless snakes. Cave fishes dont have eyeballs. In evolution, complicated structures often get lost. Dollos Law states that complicated structures can't be re-evolved because the genes that code for them were lost or have mutated. A group of sea snails breaks Dollos law, Rachel Collin, Staff Scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and colleagues from two Chilean universities announce in the April, 2007, Biological Bulletin.

"This is important because it shows that animals may carry the potential for evolutionary change around with them. When the environment changes, new life forms may be able to regain abilities that were lost earlier in evolutionary history," Collin explains.

Most species of sea snail go through several life stages on the way to becoming reproductive adults. The early stages, or larvae, usually live in the water column eating microscopic algae and swimming with a specialized structure called the velum. This stage has been lost in many species, where development happens in immobile capsules protected by the mother. In these species, small bottom-dwelling juvenile snails (miniature adults) hatch out of eggs and crawl away. Thus, a whole life stage, the motile larva, is lost and thought to never been re-gained.

But how can you tell what happened in the past to bring this about? Collaborators from Chile, Argentina and the Smithsonian in Panama, using embryological observations and DNA sequencing, show that the larval stage can be reacquired.

The group collected 6 species of the genus Crepipatella from the shorelines of Argentina, Chile, Panama, Peru, South Africa and the United States. They observed the developmental stages of each species and sequenced a gene called mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I. Then, based on the differences in gene sequences, they used several different techniques to reconstruct family trees.

Indeed, they found that motile, feeding larvae had been
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Contact: Beth King
kingb@si.edu
703-787-3770
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
24-Apr-2007


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