Jeremy, the shellebrity snail
A brown garden snail called Jeremy may seems the unlikeliest of celebrities, yet his story recently caused a media sensation. In October, we appealed to the public for their help in match-making for Jeremy, who with a left-handed, anti-clockwise spiraling shell is a mirror image of other brown garden snails. We needed the offspring from Jeremy and another left-coiling or sinistral snail to be able to study the genetics of this rare condition, which may offer valuable insights into a common understanding of body asymmetry in other animals, including humans.
Following the appeal via the national media and a #snaillove hashtag on Twitter, Jeremy became a media sensation, with his story featuring on prime time BBC current affairs and comedy programmes including BBC Radio Four’s Today Programme, Have I Got News For You and No Such Thing as the News. The full report on the story and how it came about is on the University of Nottingham's blog site.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this whole experience has been to contrast the impact of the press release that we put out in March with the recent quest to find a mate for our ‘lonely lefty’. Both centre on similar science – that the same set of genes contribute to snail and human asymmetry – but I think that the addition of Jeremy created an easy hook for journalists, so that it was no longer a plain “scientist finds gene” story. Almost without exception, the press were very good to highlight the deeper story, that body asymmetry may be conserved between snails and humans (saying to me “yes, of course, that is what really matters here”). But, of course, the irony is that they weren’t at all interested back in March when it was just about body asymmetry … they needed Jeremy to draw the audience in.
Have we found a mate for Jeremy? Wait and see ....