Open invitation

To support or to participate,

Dear Colleague:

This letter is to request your support for the concept of developing an internationally supported molluscan genome project, one that is focused on an important model organism, the freshwater gastropod Biomphalaria glabrata.

There are several important reasons to pursue this agenda. As you know, B. glabrata and other snails play an essential role in the transmission of parasites of medical and veterinary importance, so it is important to obtain the perspective on such snails that only a genome project can provide. Studies devoted to an understanding of host-parasite relationships, including identification of resistance genes or basic components of the molluscan defense system, are bound to benefit from such a project. Also, if the study of molluscan biology is to keep pace with the rapid advances being made in other areas of biology, it will be mandatory to have at our disposal a knowledge of the complete complement of genes of at least one mollusc. Furthermore, because molluscs are such distinctive organisms, it is important to comprehend the underlying basis for their unique attributes. A full appreciation of the diversity inherent in animal life can not be achieved without obtaining a detailed view of the molluscan genome.

Although there are certainly other worthy candidates, B. glabrata is being advocated as the first mollusc to be chosen for a genome sequencing project for the following reasons: 1) it is a representative of the largest molluscan class, the Gastropoda; 2) there currently are more sequence data available for B. glabrata than for any other mollusc; 3) because of its role in the transmission of human schistosomiasis, this species is a subject of active investigation in many research labs; 4) the prospects for the sequence data base for this species to grow markedly in coming months is high; 5) knowledge gained from this species can almost certainly be applied to several other snails of medical or veterinary significance (such as Bulinus, Lymnaea or Oncomelania), or to other model organism like Helisoma; and 6) there is presently an encouraging amount of interest among funding agencies to pursue such a project.

The general strategy being considered is that there would be an initial phase of "gene discovery" (EST projects, for example) initiated from individual investigator labs. This phase is envisioned to emphasize B. glabrata just because more labs are working with this species, but certainly should not exclude similar projects with other important snails such as species of Oncomelania. Once more sequence data were in hand, a second phase would follow that would involve large sequencing centers and that would by necessity focus on a single species, and that would provide the complete complement of Biomphalaria genes. The sequences generated as part of the consortium effort will be released to public databases in a timely fashion.

Before going any further, it should be made very clear that these are very early days for this initiative. For this project to succeed, it must have broadly based input from a wide spectrum of the scientific community. It is important that scientists from both developed and developing countries step forward to support this initiative. No one research group has seized control of this project  - indeed, to succeed, it will be necessary to form a viable, interactive consortium of scientists. Without evidence of such a consortium, this project will not gain favor among funding agencies. Your input and questions are welcomed and encouraged, and a "Biomphalaria glabrata genome" website has been posted to encourage such input (address <>). The website will be developed further to become one forum where important details about how the project is to be designed and managed will be aired.

An important first step in approaching funding agencies is to demonstrate that the relevant community of scientists has been canvassed for their input. The list of recipients of this message is incomplete - PLEASE PASS ON THIS MESSAGE TO ANYONE YOU THINK MIGHT BE INTERESTED. Your support can come in at least three helpful forms. The first is simply to respond to this message to indicate your support of the concept, and that information derived from a genome project would be of use to your own research projects. Please feel free to use the wording provided below. The second is that if this is a project with which you might want to become actively
involved, then please so indicate. Once again, hands on involvement by scientists from developing countries is actively encouraged. One of the keys to eventual success in this endeavor is to convince several funding agencies (from different agencies and countries) to participate in its support. If you feel you would like to join in the effort to seek funding in your own country or from an agency that you know well, that would be extremely helpful. A third form of help would simply be to add any Biomphalaria sequence, including ESTs, to the data bases, to increase the visibility of Biomphalaria as a model organism.

 Thanks for enduring this long message. No doubt this letter has raised many questions. Any and all questions, comments and opinions are welcomed.

Yours sincerely,

Matty Knight ( and Fred E. Lewis (,
Biomedical Research Institute, 12111 Parklawn Drive, Rockville Maryland 20852, USA, Tel: +1 301-881-3300, Fax: +1 301-881-7640
David Rollinson (,
Wolfson Wellcome Biomedical Laboratories, The Natural History Museum, Department of Zoology, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK, Tel: +20-7942-5181/5152, Fax: +20-7942- 5518
Coen M. Adema ( and Eric S. Loker (,
Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque New Mexico 87131, USA, Tel: +1 505-277-2743/5508, Fax: +1 505-277-0304

Suggested wording for a positive response (use as you see fit)

Dear Consortium Members,

It is very important that efforts be initiated to develop a genome project for a mollusc, and Biomphalaria glabrata is an excellent choice for such a project for several reasons. Availability of a large quantity of sequence data for this organism would be invaluable to my own research efforts, and I strongly encourage the development of such a public resource.

Furthermore, recognizing that such projects are most likely to be successfully realized when the support of several funding agencies can be enlisted, I am enthusiastic about cooperating with the consortium to develop strategies for approaching relevant funding agencies, including such agencies in my own government

 e-mail to the consortium