Elysia chlorotica is amazing green sea slug for which researchers behind a new study think to be the first plant-animal hybrid ever discovered in history. Apparently, this green slug takes its solar power by feeding on algae and storing the photosynthesis performing plastids from algae in its large transparent digestive glands.
Unlike its relatives which live in the salty seas near Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines, this slug is found in salt marshes and shallow ponds along the east of the U.S., particularly in Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, Texas, Connecticut and Florida.
They can grow up to 50-60 mm in length but are more commonly found between 20-30 mm. A baby snail of this animal is grayish or reddish in color. Once they start feeding and collecting chloroplasts in the cells, they become bright green. The green color also helps these sea snails to camouflage against predators, since they don’t have a protective shell or any other ways to protect themselves. By taking on the green color from the chloroplasts of the algal cells, they can blend in with the green sea surroundings beneath them, and in that way help them to improve their chances of survival.
Like many sea creatures, the Elysia chlorotica slug eats algae to survive. In doing so, the sea snail takes the photosynthesizing chloroplasts from the algae and transfers them into its own body. This process is called ‘kleptoplasty’, in which the snail leaves the algae’s plastids intact, allowing it to shortly benefit from energy generated through photosynthesis.
The Elysia sea slug uses its sharp front tooth to suck nutrients, including algae’s photosynthesizing chloroplasts. The gene for repairing these chloroplasts is then encoded onto its genome. While the next generation also must consume chloroplasts from algae, the genes to keep the chloroplasts are already present in its genome.
Photosynthesis In People?
This animal has baffled scientists. Before this discovery, they hadn’t known that it was possible for DNA to cross from one species to a whole different species and impart a life-altering function. No doubt, this opens up a lot of new options, but scientists say, photosynthesis among people still doesn’t seem to be possible, because unlike E. Chlorotica, our guts are made just to digest and completely destroy chloroplast.
This Animal Is A True Hybrid
E. Chlorotica is a true hybrid animal, because when it consumes the algae, by some unknown process, it is able to take the genes from algae and can store them in its own DNA. This gives this snail an ability to keep the chloroplast cells by supplying them with proteins, and do a real photosynthesis in its own body. Without its stealing gene, it wouldn’t have been possible for this snail to live off solar energy for the whole life (which is about 1 year). Scientists claim that if the findings in the research are confirmed, this would be the first case in our history of gene transfer from one multicellular entity to another. They also say that bacteria do this all the time, but this sea slug would be the first hybrid between animal and a plant ever discovered.