Reading the Thoughts of a Mollusk: The Neural Origins of Seashell Structure and Pattern

We explain how the simple neurosecretory system of aquatic mollusks is able to generate the diverse array of structures and pigmentation patterns found among their shells. By constructing a mathematical representation of this biological system, we first explain how it gives rise to many distinct shell shapes. Then we shift our focus to the pigmentation control system. We demonstrate how our mathematical model also faithfully reproduces many of the even more diverse pigmentation patterns. The anatomical and physiological basis of this model sets it apart from other mathematical representations of shape and pattern. In addition to explaining the shell construction and patterns, we also predict patterns of shell repair in response to environmentally induced disruptions. The model makes additional predictions about the potential evolutionary relationships between shells with different patterns. Finally, there are several novel mechanisms for pattern formation suggested by the model.

This is joint work with Alistair Boettiger and George Oster.

Bard Ermentrout, University of Pittsburgh


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