Putting snails in the microwave…for science!

Yahoo answers tells me I shouldn’t put snails in the microwave, but this paper tells me otherwise:

Galindo LA, Puillandre N, Strong EE, Bouchet P (2014) Using microwaves to prepare gastropods for DNA barcoding. Molecular Ecology Resources, 14(4): 700-705.

This paper is so simple, yet so epic in so many ways:

We have experimented with a method traditionally used to clean shells that involves placing the living gastropods in a microwave (MW) oven; the electromagnetic radiation very quickly heats both the animal and the water trapped inside the shell, resulting in separation of the muscles that anchor the animal to the shell. Done properly, the body can be removed intact from the shell and the shell voucher is preserved undamaged.

To reiterate: these researchers put snails in the microwave and got a paper out of it. Now of course, this is actually a brilliant method – the scientists stumbled across this quick fix because they need to preserve BOTH the shell and DNA from their specimens. With such thick shells, preservatives can’t get into the tissue very easily, and other methods (boiling the snails alive! or using chemical relaxants to pull out the muscle) are time consuming, sloooowwwwww, and downright dangerous:

To some extent, [these methods] can also represent a hazard (electrical drill and boiling water) on an unstable research vessel at sea.

Microwaves can zap lots of animals quickly and keep all their DNA intact!

(CC-licensed image from Flickr)

(CC-licensed image from Flickr)

This paper also wins for the most unnecessary use of acronyms, shortening the terms for microwaves (MW) and microwave ovens (MWO). So in everyday life I guess we can now further reduce MWs to a hand signal, and just say that we’re going to heat up our coffee in the “Muah”.

Don't try this with chickens (CC-licensed images from Flickr)

Don’t try this with chickens (CC-licensed images from Flickr)


Holly Bik (160 Posts)

I am a computational biologist at the University of California, Riverside. My research uses DNA sequencing and genomics to study microbial eukaryotes (yeah, nematodes!) in marine ecosystems, with an emphasis on evolution and biodiversity in the deep-sea. I can neither confirm nor deny that I like Unix more than I like going to sea.

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One comment on “Putting snails in the microwave…for science!
  1. I used the same method for extracting snails out of their shells for isotope analyses- they just slide right out. That way I was able to dissect the tissues I needed without creating a confusing goopy mess and avoided the risk of getting small pieces of shell into the soft tissue sample (a big no-no for isotopes). The only reason I did it is because there was a microwave on the bench beside me and had to defrost frozen samples quickly to avoid decomposition to begin… didn’t think of publishing any of it though!

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