The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

Cockle shell colour governed by region of DNA

Detailed analysis of shellfish species points to heritable factors linked to shell colour and markings.

Scientists have pinpointed a region in the DNA of cockles which controls the colour and pattern of their shells.

The findings, in the most detailed investigation of cockle DNA to date, indicates a clear genetic factor linked to shell colour.

The insights may help breed the commercially important species to have shell colours that appeal to seafood consumers.

They could pave the way for further study to investigate the factors behind various colours and patterns found in the species, which is found along the east coast regions of the North Atlantic Ocean.

Shell colour influences

Scientists led by the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and involving the Roslin Institute, built a high-density genetic map of the common cockle.

The team used this map to search for regions of the genome linked to colour variation in cockle shells.

They discovered an area of DNA containing several candidate genes linked to colour as well as stripe and circle markings.

The outcome could offer insights to enable commercial cockle breeders to produce shellfish with a desired appearance.

It may also aid further study to determine factors linked to colour, such as environmental conditions, water salinity and acidity, or risk of predation.

Their study was published in Scientific Reports.

Colours in nature can be determined by a range of factors linked to a species’ surroundings but also to their ancestry. Our detailed examination of the DNA in common cockles shows a significant hereditary factor connected to shell colour and pattern, indicating that colour conveys some importance for the species.

Dr Diego RobledoRoslin Institute

This study poses questions regarding the adaptive role of shell colour in cockles. Deeper studies at population level may aid understanding of the significance of the colour and pattern variation observed.

Professor Paulino MartínezUniversity of Santiago de Compostela

Image credit: Ryan Hodnett / Wikimedia Commons

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About the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is a one-of-a-kind centre of excellence in clinical activity, teaching and research. Our purpose-built campus, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Pentland Hills Regional Park, is home to more than eight hundred staff and almost fourteen hundred students, all of whom contribute to our exceptional community ethos.    

The School comprises:   

  The Roslin Institute   

The Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems   

The Roslin Innovation Centre   

The Hospital for Small Animals   

Equine Veterinary Services   

Farm Animal Services   

Easter Bush Pathology   

The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education   

We represent the largest concentration of animal science-related expertise in Europe, impacting local, regional, national and international communities in terms of economic growth, the provision of clinical services and the advancement of scientific knowledge.