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Thailand’s glow-in-the-dark snail steals the show

Photo courtesy of The Nation

A bioluminescent snail from Thailand has captured the hearts of thousands, winning the prestigious International Mollusc of the Year 2024 title. Over 50% of the more than 6,000 voters selected this mesmerising mollusc, making it a clear favourite.

The annual competition, initiated in 2021 by Germany’s Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics, and Unitas Malacologica, aims to highlight the incredible diversity of molluscs and promote their conservation. This year’s champion, Phuphania crossei, is a unique air-breathing land snail exclusively found in Thailand’s tropical forests.

Nicknamed the “living glow stick,” this snail’s remarkable bioluminescent light sets it apart. Dr Athit Pholyotha, a biologist at Chulalongkorn University and part of the discovery team, described it as a normal-looking snail at first glance, with a yellowish-brown body and a dark grey head with eyes on stalks. Its brownish shell has distinct ribs, but its true marvel lies in its constant greenish glow, visible even in daylight.

The bioluminescence is produced by light cells on the foot and mantle, a rare trait among terrestrial snails, said Dr Athit.

“Previously, the only known terrestrial mollusc with this ability was Quantula striata, discovered in Singapore in 1942. Phuphania crossei, however, can maintain its glow continuously.”

Discovered around the limestone mountains of Saraburi’s Kaeng Khoi district, Phuphania crossei underscores Thailand’s rich biodiversity. Assistant Professor Piyoros Tongkerd, also part of the research team, revealed that their next step is to map the snail’s genome.

“This will allow us to compare it with other bioluminescent molluscs and understand its evolutionary path.”

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Additionally, researchers from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Science and Faculty of Medicine are investigating the medical potential of snail mucin.

“Understanding the proteins that produce mucin could lead to advanced medical supplies.”

Snail mucin is already a popular ingredient in anti-ageing skin products, hinting at broader applications in the future, reported The Nation.

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