14 January 2010
Nudibranchs... Now with added chlorophyll!
Live Science reports on the discovery of a sea slug that is in one sense part animal and part plant. It produces chlorophyll and so it is the only animal that can carry out photosynthesis.
"They can make their energy-containing molecules without having to eat anything," said Sidney Pierce, a biologist at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
Pierce has been studying Elysia chlorotica, for about 20 years. He presented his most recent findings Jan. 7 at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in Seattle. The finding was first reported by Science News.
The sea slugs live in salt marshes in New England and Canada and are believed to have appropriated the genes needed to make the green pigment chlorophyll. This on its own is not enough for photosynthesis: the slugs cannot produce chloroplast, the organelle where photosynthesis takes place.. These are obtained by eating algae.
As long as they receive sufficient light they can survive without food. Furthermore the trait is passed on to offspring
The biggest mystery now is the mechanism by which the chlorophyll-generating genes are actually incorporated into the sea slug’s genome
This is fascinating stuff, with major implications if the mechanism for incorporating genes can be determined. I never ever thought that such a complex creature would be part plant so to speak (nut only so to speak). That said I have met a few people who are so thick they probably need watering!