Solar Powered SEA SLUG (Elysia chlorotica) ©PNAS
Elysia chlorotica is a lurid green sea slug, with a gelatinous leaf-shaped body, that lives along the Atlantic seaboard of the US. What sets it apart from most other sea slugs is its ability to run on solar power. What this means is that starting a few weeks after birth, it eats only infrequently and get most of it’s energy from the sun.
Mary Rumpho of the University of Maine, is an expert on E. chlorotica and has now discovered how the sea slug gets this ability: it photosynthesizes with genes “stolen” from the algae it eats.
In their latest experiments, Rumpho and colleagues sequenced the chloroplast genes of Vaucheria litorea, the alga that is the sea slug’s favourite snack. They confirmed that if the sea slug used the algal chloroplasts alone, it would not have all the genes needed to photosynthesise.
They then turned their attention to the sea slug’s own DNA and found one of the vital algal genes was present. Its sequence was identical to the algal version, indicating that the slug had probably stolen the gene from its food.
“We do not know how this is possible and can only postulate on it,” says Rumpho, who says that the phenomenon of stealing is known as kleptoplasty.
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My thanks to @mikeneyk for the link!