Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Photosynthetic animals?

Sure, there are protists that can eat when sunlight is low, and turn on the solar panels on a nice sunny day.  But those single-celled protists are so "simple".  Surely no animal can pull off this metabolic feat?  Leave it to marine slugs (gastropod mollusks) to eat algae and use their chloroplasts as photosynthetic engines.  But even cooler, these sea slugs are able to make their own chlorophyl because algal genes have moved horizontally into their genome.

This is the first evidence that chlorophyl encoding genes can be transferred from a protist into a eukaryotic genome.  This type of horizontal gene transfer is common among bacteria, but rare in animals.  You can hear an interview with the lead author of the paper on the best science show on radio.

2 comments:

  1. This is really cool! And it ties in with what we just did in Microbiology with phototrophs (get their energy from sunlight) and chemotrophs (get their energy from oxidation reactions).
    This guy kind of throws a wrench into all that though, haha.

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  2. The fact that genes have transferred from the alga to an animal is really interesting. Could this be the solution for human hunger? Did you check out the podcast?

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