Photosynthetic Sea Slug (Elysia Chlorotica)

Photosynthetic Sea Slug

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Elysia chlorotica is a marine slug that uses special organelles called chloroplasts to capture the Sun’s energy. They actually “steal” the chloroplasts from the algae they eat; a phenomenon known as kleptoplasty. Their bodies produce chemicals that extend the life of the chloroplasts they ingest.

elysia_chlorotica2

Image: Google

They can be found here in the US on the East coast, and can be found in marshes and creeks!

Young slugs don’t have this green color. They don’t turn green until they begin to feed on algae. As they get older, special genes turn on that allow them to use the photosynthetic power of the algal chloroplasts. There are only 4 species that can actually use the chloroplasts for photosynthesis. Some species can engulf them, but they do not photosynthesize.

elysia_chlorotica_life_cycle

Image Courtesy: Mary E. Rumpho, PNAS 11-18-2008

Check out this video of chlorotica feeding.

 

Critical Question:

If in the future, humans could photosynthesize (through genetic engineering), how would this impact our species and the planet? 

 

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