Kleptoplast Slug Steals Plant Genes and Lives on Sunlight

A kleptoplast is an organism that steals genes from other organisms, usually by eating them. Usually those stolen genes don't actually function, but not so in the case of the leafy green E. chlorotica sea slug. This little guy uses plant genes to generate its own photosynthesis factory - after eating its favorite kind of algae, the E. chlorotica can live entirely on solar power for up to a year.


You know what this means, right? If humans could do the same thing with plant genes, we could become just like Popeye, eating a can of spinach to become mega-powered. Sadly, the human digestive tract isn't suited for kleptoplasty: All those acids in our stomach would just dissolve the DNA and leave it unsuitable for incorporation. We'll just have to rely on gene therapies to turn us into half-plants. If you want to know more about E. chlorotica, New Scientist has a cool introduction to the life of solar slugs and their strange metabolism. Researchers have only just begun to study the creatures, and nobody is entirely sure how they manage to become photosynthetic. A new study has revealed that the creatures incorporate genes that they eat, but that their genomes also contain plant genes already. So these slugs have been swapping genetic material with algae for a long time. This is not the only kind of sea slug that can live on solar power, either. There are a few other varieties. All of them have borrowed genetic material from the plants they eat. Solar Powered Slug [via New Scientist] Top image by M. Rumpho with digital enhancement by R.D. Lineberger, Texas A&M University. Bottom from PNAS.

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