Snails with penises will help to assess the Arctic pollution
Adult females of tiny snails of the Boreocingula genus could grow underdeveloped male reproductive organs, scientists from St. Petersburg University discovered. This can be a reaction to the pollution of the Arctic seas.
Some species of mollusks are hermaphrodites with both male and female genitals. Sometimes they can change sex throughout life. As an extremely rare anomaly, however, a mollusk can develop sexual characteristics of another sex.
According to research published in Polar Biology, it happened with sexually mature females of the Boreocingula martyni mollusk — a small rudimentary penis was found in all studied snails. Specialists collected samples of this species in Rogers Bay on Wrangel Island and in Pevek Bay in Chukotka. These territories are polluted by harmful substances used in paints to protect ship hulls against fouling. In 2008, an international convention came into force prohibiting anti-fouling systems with organotin compounds. Studies have shown a correlation between the number of mollusk pseudohermaphrodites and the concentration of organotin compounds in their habitat.
It means that scientists could use the Boreocingula martyni for bio-indication of marine pollution, says Ivan Nekhaev from St Petersburg University. Apparently, it is cheaper to collect a few dozen snails than to analyze water samples.
Elia Kabanov is a science writer, covering the past, present and future of technology (@metkere).