A leaf-shaped sea slug has been discovered to have stolen genes from a plant. These stolen genes enable the animal to produce its own chlorophyll. Not only does the slug eat algae and produce its own food, but it also doesn’t ever need to eat again! The thieving slug, formally known as the Elysia chlorotica, and its special abilities have been studied by Sidney K. Pierce in the University of South Florida. Mr Pierce and his colleagues also have discovered further interesting abilities regarding this ‘hybrid’.
This slug can make its own chlorophyll, the green pigment located within chloroplasts in plants that converts energy from the sunlight (Campbell, 2009). It collects the relevant organelles known as chloroplasts from Vaucheria algae and eats it. These stolen parts then travel though the network of its gut and then held inside its cells. The masses of chlorophyll present in the slug did not originate from consuming algae, however the majority of this food being produced by the slug itself. The slug first starts off by sucking out the algae filaments when it is available in its environment. Then simply situates itself in some light and starts sunbathing. The chloroplast, the site of photosynthesis, present in the slug’s cells is activated and starts producing its food, chlorophyll (Campbell, 2009). It is after this process that the slug does not have to consume any more algae for this rest of its life.
Despite the easy life of a slug, it’s no simple process, there are 15 chemical reactions and various cell parts involved in producing chlorophyll. In order for Mr Pierce and his colleagues to prove that these slugs produce their own chlorophyll, the slugs were given a form of radioactive amino acid and were put under analysis. Later results revealed that the radioactive product within the slug was chlorophyll. This radioactive product appeared after a period of sunbathing. In comparison to slugs having been in the dark, no radioactive product was detected, confirming the presence of a chlorophyll- synthesizing pathway.
The method in which chlorophyll is received and consumed is up to the slug; however some slugs may can reproduce offspring with this ability already. Studies have found some of the photosynthesis-relating genes were present in unhatched sea slug eggs. These photosynthesising genes were taken directly from the algae and transferred to the slug’s cells. This allows offspring to have the ability to produce their own food from the very beginning.
This species of slugs is far more advanced than any other animal. As it takes parts of another organism and uses it for it benefit. Whereas, compared to other organisms, it lives in crevices amongst its host cells.
The idea of burrowing the photosynthesis is peculiar, but interesting as this organism resembles a hybrid- part plant and animal. These slugs don’t ever have to worry about their 5 serves of fruit and 2 serves of vege ever again! All they pretty much do is bask in the sun, and happily make their way around the sea. Being adaptable across different ranges of environments, this makes them the advanced hybrid.