Apr 11, 2010

Green Sea Slug Discovery

Photo source: Nicholas E. Curtis and Ray Martinez via Wired.com

The slug has brought us something never seen before in nature: a creature that is both animal and plant.

Researchers, spear-headed by Sidney K. Pierce of the University of South Florida in Tampa, have recently discovered that the green sea slug (Elysia chlorotica) is able to hijack complete chloroplasts from the algae it dines on and use them to photosynthesize. After only a few meals on algae, a slug is able to co-opt the genetic material of its algal dinner and never have to eat again. Sunbathing suffices.

This has never been seen before in the animal kingdom.

Swapping genetic material among microbes is common place. But this is something new. It's different from how corals are able to benefit from photosynthesis. With corals, they host entire photosynthesizing organisms and consume the product. But this slug has skipped the middle man and gone straight to the source. Moreover, it looks like they are able to make their own chlorophyll. Even juvenile slugs that have never eaten algae have algal photosynthetic genes in their DNA, suggesting that they are able to supply their chloroplasts with chlorophyll and never have to eat algae -- or anything -- again.

Maybe science could one day provide me with my own chloroplasts that craft lasagna and hamburgers for me. I'd lay in a tanning booth for that.


Sara P. Grady said...

I find these occasionally when I am out doing marine invertebrate surveys. They're probably one of my favorite species to find. Super cool.

Raging Wombat said...

Gah, now I'm just jealous. Thanks, Sara.

Anonymous said...

Do they taste like an escargot salad?

Jenny Reiswig said...

YAY I love learning new science first thing in the morning. Always makes me feel like it was worth getting up.

Raging Wombat said...

I aim to please, Jenny.