Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Photosynthetic Sea Slug


This is the eastern emerald elysia (Elysia chlorotica), a tiny marine sea slug native to the coastal areas of eastern North America. You may notice it is a very vibrant green, almost seeming to glow. What makes this creature so amazing is the source of that glow.


That's right, the same molecular structures that power plants and give leaves their green hue also powers this small creature.

This slug wasn't born this way, but rather acquired it's solar powered machinery through an elegant process known as kleptoplasty. Basically, the slug consumed a particular kind of algae (Vaucheria litorea) and in the process of digestion somehow stole it's prey's chloroplasts. What's even more amazing is the fact that the slug already had the genes required to use the chloroplasts, probably acquired by an ancestor through horizontal gene transfer.

So not only does it steal plant molecules, but it already has plant genes buried in it's DNA. 

A young slug can go as long as 10 months without food after stocking up on algal chloroplasts, subsisting only on sun-generated sugars.

How cool is that? A genuine solar powered animal.

Just imagine if we could harness that same power. A couple bottles of algae at birth, and then the rest of your life spent glowing and hunger free.

That would definitely be a wonderful world.


  1. Amazing, it seems there are many wonders in nature.

  2. wow..a glowing sea slug..gorgeous..if we have the same capability..there will be no world hunger problem..