Discussing Molluscs in Malaysia

James reports on his visit to Malaysia and the World Congress of Malacology:

Discussing Molluscs in Malaysia

“Sitting in Heathrow Airport waiting for my connection back to Brussels is a perfect time to look back on a fantastic couple of weeks in Malaysia, and jetlag makes 5 am a very productive hour all of a sudden! I was there with my colleagues Yan and Thierry presenting on my project, and CACHE, at the World Congress of Malacology in Penang.

George Town - Penang, where WCM2016 was hosted

George Town – Penang, where WCM2016 was hosted.

Specialised meetings are always a great place to foster new ideas, and I came out of it with plenty floating around my head: from the biomimicry potential of previously uncharacterised shell pigments and their potential ulterior functions; to the differences in potential utility of majority calcite1 shells in comparison to all-aragonite1 Chiton2 shells; and the ecosystem services of giant clam reefs.

Daniel Speiser talking on the aragonite lenses of Chitons

Daniel Speiser talking on the aragonite lenses of Chitons.

I presented on the pros and cons of using shells in biotech applications versus simply returning them to the sea in order to gain from the many services they can provide to the environment. It is a question that has become central to my project and one I am still struggling with. I was happy to hear that plenty of people were interested in the concept of shell biomimicry, and I have made some interesting contacts including a group in Hong Kong, a part of the world particularly relevant to my project: over 83% of world oyster production is carried out in China by small-scale farmers, and thus the vast majority of the world’s shell waste is produced there.

Malaysia is a wonderful country: vibrant, full of life, and packed with delicious food. The food was something that I particularly capitalized on, almost certainly to the detriment of a race I have in a few weeks time. Energy reserves won’t be a problem though!

Clam shells on display at WCM2016

Clam shells on display at WCM2016.

1Calcite and Aragonite are different crystal forms of the calcium carbonate that mollusc shells are made of. The different crystal shapes can give them quite different mechanical properties.

2Chitons are an often forgotten group of Molluscs that have 8 interconnected shell plates, and as I discovered at the meeting, can also have thousands of small ‘eyes’ (aesthetes) embedded in their shell with aragonite lenses!”

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