Snails play a surprising part in art. Dali used them as images of impotence, while medieval painters included them in paintings of the Virgin Mary, due to the belief that their shells meant that their modesty was protected and they reproduced without sex. Gravestones are sometimes etched with snail images for they are seen as creatures that undergo resurrection when, after a long period of drought, it rains and thousands of snails that had been dried up start crawling around. Dutch flower paintings often include snails for the message behind those works was that, beautiful as the flowers are, they will soon be consumed, like human flesh, by worms, by insects - and by snails. Many other aspects of the biology of snails have an echo in art, and some art-works hint at the question why some species are so genetically variable in shell colour and pattern? Perhaps we can learn from the world of painting, as a hint that the two cultures may, at least in the world of molluscs, be uniting to form one.
Professor Steve Jones is Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London and an author of several popular science books. He is one of the world's top six experts on the genetics of snails (and the other five agree) and has also studied the genetics and evolution of fruit flies and humans.
Professor Jones was born in 1944 in Aberystwyth, Wales, and has degrees from the University of Edinburgh and University of Chicago. Much of his academic research has been concerned with snails and the light their anatomy can shed on biodiversity and genetics. He is Professor of genetics at Galton Laboratory of University College London, and has had visiting posts at Harvard University, the University of Chicago, the University of California at Davis, University of Botswana, Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone, and Flinders University in Adelaide.
Professor Jones is probably best known to the general public as a regular broadcaster and writer of popular books on scientific issues. He gave the 1991 Reith Lecture on "The Language of the Genes", has written and presented a Radio 3 series on science and the arts, "Blue Skies", and a TV series on human genetics, "In the Blood". He also appears on other radio and TV programmes, such as Today, Question Time, Late Review and Newsnight , and writes a regular column in The Daily Telegraph, "View from the Lab".
His many books include Genetics for Beginners (Icon Books), The Language of the Genes (HarperCollins), In The Blood (HarperCollins), Almost like a Whale: The Origin of Species Updated (Anchor Books), Y: the Descent of Men (Little, Brown).
All of Professor Jones's past Gresham lectures can be accessed here.