University of the Sunshine Coast’s Dr Scott Cummins has a $145,000 grant to study the hypometabolism of snails.
University of the Sunshine Coast’s Dr Scott Cummins has a $145,000 grant to study the hypometabolism of snails. Nicholas Falconer

The beauty of snails' pace

SCOTT Cummins will spend the next three years keeping a close eye on these slimy friends of his.

And all that observing may very well help humans live longer in the future.

It is a bold new study of the hypometabolism of snails.

Dr Cummins, a senior lecturer at the University of the Sunshine Coast, received a load of 1000 of the slimy molluscs this week following the announcement of a $145,000 grant for the study.

The molecular biologist will examine how snails slow down their metabolism to put their bodies into a state of dormancy.

By doing that, snails have been known to survive for up to a decade before they reignite their bodies and come to life again.

It is like an eternal sleep that they are able to turn on when they are under severe hardships, like a lack of food or extreme heat.

By discovering how snails do this, Dr Cummins said it could eventually be applied to humans.

"The reason (snails become dormant) is pretty obvious. They go into periods of extreme hardship," Dr Cummins said.

"It's a way of preserving themselves until times become better.

"The way it's done...is a change in their genes and the way they produce proteins."

Dr Cummins said realising how snails modified their genes to hibernate could potentially be used for operations such as tissue transplants in humans.

He said such an application could mean preserving the tissue for longer periods of time, which would increase the success of those operations.

A second major research grant has been awarded to USC's Pro Vice-Chancellor for research Professor Roland De Marco.

Prof De Marco said his component of the research involved using synchrotron radiation techniques to develop innovative fuel cell materials.

 

SLIMY FACTS ABOUT SNAILS

  • Molluscs communicate by releasing pheromones.
  • An 8g garden snail being farmed by producers will eat between 10 and 15g of grain a day.
  • The slime snails leave is called an extract.
  • Snails are hermaphrodites and when they mate both are impregnated and produce about 100 eggs.

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