Worth a Thousand Words

Snails

This post was written by Caroline McCormick, who started at PLoS ONE last year as a Publications Assistant and is now a Publications Manager. She focuses on ethics queries and managing projects related to the editorial process.


This week’s featured image comes from the paper “Lymnaea schirazensis, an Overlooked Snail Distorting Fascioliasis Data: Genotype, Phenotype, Ecology, Worldwide Spread, Susceptibility, Applicability.”
These snails are known to transmit trematodes that cause pathogenic liver parasitosis in humans and animals, and the authors spent 10 years collecting snails in 4 different continents in order study the link between the snails and the fascioliasis associated with them.

The authors determined that while the snails are geographically diverse, they are genetically similar, and they provide both a thorough genetic analysis and a brief history of this pathogen’s trip around the world.

Background

Lymnaeid snails transmit medical and veterinary important trematodiases, mainly fascioliasis. Vector specificity of fasciolid parasites defines disease distribution and characteristics. Different lymnaeid species appear linked to different transmission and epidemiological patterns. Pronounced susceptibility differences to absolute resistance have been described among lymnaeid populations. When assessing disease characteristics in different endemic areas, unexpected results were obtained in studies on lymnaeid susceptibility to Fasciola. We undertook studies to understand this disease transmission heterogeneity.

Methodology/Principal Findings

A ten-year study in Iran, Egypt, Spain, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru, demonstrated that such heterogeneity is not due to susceptibility differences, but to a hitherto overlooked cryptic species, Lymnaea schirazensis, confused with the main vector Galba truncatula and/or other Galba/Fossaria vectors. Nuclear rDNA and mtDNA sequences and phylogenetic reconstruction highlighted an old evolutionary divergence from other Galba/Fossaria species, and a low intraspecific variability suggesting a recent spread from one geographical source. Morphometry, anatomy and egg cluster analyses allowed for phenotypic differentiation. Selfing, egg laying, and habitat characteristics indicated a migration capacity by passive transport. Studies showed that it is not a vector species (n = 8572 field collected, 20 populations): snail finding and penetration by F. hepatica miracidium occur but never lead to cercarial production (n = 338 experimentally infected).

Conclusions/Significance

This species has been distorting fasciolid specificity/susceptibility and fascioliasis geographical distribution data. Hence, a large body of literature on G. truncatula should be revised. Its existence has henceforth to be considered in research. Genetic data on livestock, archeology and history along the 10,000-year post-domestication period explain its wide spread from the Neolithic Fertile Crescent. It is an efficient biomarker for the follow-up of livestock movements, a crucial aspect in fascioliasis emergence. It offers an outstanding laboratory model for genetic studies on susceptibility/resistance in F. hepatica/lymnaeid interaction, a field of applied research with disease control perspectives.

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