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Very little is known about the evolution of molluskan shell pigments, although Mollusca is a highly diverse, species rich, and ecologically important group of animals comprised of many brightly colored taxa. The marine snail genus Clanculus was chosen as an exceptional model for studying the evolution of shell color, first, because in Clanculus margaritarius and Clanculus pharaonius both shell and foot share similar colors and patterns; and second, because recent studies have identified the pigments, trochopuniceus (pink-red), and trochoxouthos (yellow-brown), both comprised of uroporphyrin I and uroporphyrin III, in both shell and colored foot tissue of these species. These unusual characteristics provide a rare opportunity to identify the genes involved in color production because, as the same pigments occur in the shell and colored foot tissue, the same color-related genes may be simultaneously expressed in both mantle (which produces the shell) and foot tissue. In this study, the transcriptomes of these two Clanculus species along with a third species, Calliostoma zizyphinum, were sequenced to identify genes associated with the synthesis of porphyrins. Calliostoma zizyphinum was selected as a negative control as trochopuniceus and trochoxouthos were not found to occur in this species. As expected, genes necessary for the production of uroporphyrin I and III were found in all three species, but gene expression levels were consistent with synthesis of uroporphyrins in mantle and colored foot tissue only in Clanculus. These results are relevant not only to understanding the evolution of shell pigmentation in Clanculus but also to understanding the evolution of color in other species with uroporphyrin pigmentation, including (mainly marine) mollusks soft tissues and shells, annelid and platyhelminth worms, and some bird feathers.

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APA Citation

Williams, S. T., Lockyer, A. E., Dyal, P., Nakano, T., Churchill, C. K., & Speiser, D. I. (2017). Colorful seashells: Identification of haem pathway genes associated with the synthesis of porphyrin shell color in marine snails. Ecology and Evolution, 7(23), 10379–10397.


© 2017 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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