Volcano snail: the iron mollusk that resists scorching heat

Originally discovered in 2001 during expeditions in the Kairei hydrothermal field, in the Indian Ocean, the volcano snail, also known as ‘sea pangolin’, is a rare species of mollusk that inhabits regions considered by scientists to be “origin” of life”, for presenting almost impossible conditions of existence. The animal stands out for being the only living being that incorporates iron in its shell, it is a true gladiator of nature and can withstand temperatures of up to 400ºC.

PLOS One (Source: PLOS One / Reproduction)

Inhabitant of the depths between 2.4 thousand and 2.9 thousand meters, the volcano snail (Chrysomallon squamiferum) is a peculiar specimen that extracts iron sulfide from its environment to develop an “armor” that completely coats and protects its soft interior. In addition, the creature sustains itself on bacteria, which are processed into a large gland, which then absorbs chemicals such as pyrite (also known as fool’s gold) and giggles, gaining new colors and shapes depending on where it lives.

This property is possible thanks to the combination of iron and sulfur ions present in volcanic places, allowing its skeleton to survive high temperatures, high pressure, strong acidity and low oxygen in ecosystems, surprisingly acquiring magnetic particularities characteristic of the materials that compose them.

Decoded DNA and Species Hazards

In May 2020, a team of scientists at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) decoded the volcano snail genome for the first time and announced that 25 ‘transcription factors’ collaborate in the production of iron minerals . “We found that a gene, called MTP — metal tolerance protein — 9, showed a 27-fold increase in the population with iron sulfide mineralization compared to that without,’ said Dr. Sun Jin in the study. “This protein has been suggested to increase tolerance to metal ions.”

(Source: Wikispecies / Reproduction)(Source: Wikispecies / Reproduction)

According to scholars, molluscs from the “origin of life” have the same genes present in squid and oysters and appear to boost not only studies on the creation of life in hydrothermal vents or on the evolution of the kingdom, but also as a potential source. development for the industrial sector, as the composition of the animal could provide “insights” for the manufacture of stronger armor and equipment, and for “potential remedies” in the medical field.

Currently, the volcano snail is on the IUCN Red List as an “endangered” animal, suggesting a threat of extinction. This was formalized in 2019 due to high demand for offshore mining sites, as polymetallic sulphide mineral resources — which form in abundance near snails that live in hydrothermal vents — are valued for their high concentration of precious metals. Since then, the species has been in sharp decline in the Kairei and Solitaire fields, distributed along the Central Indian Range.