Elysia chlorotica – Proving It May Actually Be Easy Being Green

This conniving little sea slug, Elysia chlorotica, may be a unique “hybrid” of plant and animal.

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a little background: skip to below the next set of asterisks for the “punch-line” concerning these sea slugs…

There is no lack of organisms forming unusual symbiotic relationships, especially those occurring between animal and plant.

The idea is generally that an animal, or more specifically a heterotrophic (can’t rely on sun energy, needs to consume other things for food and nutrients) organism might form a relationship with something autotrophic  (can easily produce its own energy via sunlight or chemical means).

The relationship works because both organisms tend to gain in some manner. The heterotrophic organism gains a more-readily available source of food produced by its symbiotic partner, the autotroph, which itself is likely gaining things like shelter and predator protection.

In the marine world, this is seen in corals polyps, which house tiny zooxanthellae, which are tiny little photosynthetic protozoa. Another fascinating example are the jellyfish like the ones found in Palau, that follow the sun everyday in order to fuel energy production in the symbiotic algae they host.

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E. chlorotica is different from these standard symbiotic relationship because they are not simply keeping the algal cells they consume in working order as usually happens in standard symbiotic relationships. It was previously known that the slugs would acquire photosynthetic organelles and genes from their algea food but it appears  they may be able to incorporate these “stolen goods” into internal chemical pathways to make their own chlorophyll, allowing them to photosynthesize their own food.  The results of the study supporting this find will be published in an upcoming issue of Symbiosis and may need to be scrutinized and further confirmed. But if the findings turn out to be true, there’s a whole lot of sneaky going around, folks.

Resources:

Read the original ScienceNews article

Check out Elysia chlorotica‘s wikipedia page

Visit the slick looking site- SymBio: A Look Into the Life of Solar-Powered Sea Slug

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