Green is the way to go and researchers at the University of South Florida recently discovered a green sea slug that has evolved over time to produce its own chlorophyll making it the first animal to actually produce the substance like a plant. Acording to USF’s Sidney K. Pierce, the sea slug Elysia chlorotica has been know for hijacking the photosynthesizing organelles and some genes from algae. Over the course of time, the slug has built up enough to evolve to a chlorophyll-making animal. The slugs — or maybe we should call them “plantimals” — can manufacture the most common form of chlorophyll, the green pigment that plants use to turn sunlight into energy. Pierce emphasized that this green slug goes far beyond the relationship between corals and zooxanthellae where the coral “hosts” it symbiotic algae in whole, while the slug just takes parts of cells from the algae it eats. After ingestion, the slug takes these bits of cells and holds them inside their own cells. The team found found several photosynthesis-related genes in the slugs apparently lifted directly from the algae. Even unhatched sea slugs, which have never encountered algae, carry “algal” photosynthetic genes.
Image: Nicholas E. Curtis and Ray Martinez