Friday, January 02, 2009

Solar-powered sea slug harnesses stolen plant genes

"Elysia chlorotica is a lurid green sea slug, with a gelatinous leaf-shaped body, that lives along the Atlantic seaboard of the US. What sets it apart from most other sea slugs is its ability to run on solar power. [...] Young E. chlorotica fed with algae for two weeks, could survive for the rest of their year-long lives without eating, Rumpho found in earlier work. [...] In their latest experiments, Rumpho and colleagues sequenced the chloroplast genes of Vaucheria litorea, the alga that is the sea slug's favourite snack. They confirmed that if the sea slug used the algal chloroplasts alone, it would not have all the genes needed to photosynthesise. They then turned their attention to the sea slug's own DNA and found one of the vital algal genes was present. Its sequence was identical to the algal version, indicating that the slug had probably stolen the gene from its food."

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