It's the ultimate form of solar power: eat a plant, become photosynthetic. Now researchers have found how one animal does just that.
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.
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 photosynthesises with genes "stolen" from the algae it eats.
She has known for some time that E. chlorotica acquires chloroplasts – the green cellular objects that allow plant cells to convert sunlight into energy – from the algae it eats, and stores them in the cells that line its gut.
Young E. chlorotica fed with algae for two weeks, could survive for the rest of their year-long lives without eating, Rumpho found in earlier work.
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