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Elysia chlorotica, a “solar-powered sea slug” that’s also a plant

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“The species of slug known as Elysia chlorotica may not look like much— it resembles a bright green leaf— but it’s one of the most extraordinary creatures on our planet. Living in marshes along the coast of North America, it can go about a year without eating. During that time, it lives like a plant. How is this possible?”

This TED-Ed animation illuminates the unique adaptations of E. chlorotica, a mixotroph—an organism that can get its nutrients and energy from both the sun and by consuming other organisms.

eating algae
In the case of this particular “solar-powered sea slug,” the former is achieved by the latter; via The Atlantic:

“They steal photosynthesizing machinery—in-cell structures called chloroplasts—from the algae they eat, and store the green, light-converting blobs in their body for extended periods.”

Directed by Denis Chapon, this lesson by marine ecologist Luka Seamus Wright shares how this small animal becomes photosynthetic through kleptoplasty.

Observe E. chlorotica, also known as the eastern emerald elysia, in this footage captured by by Mary S. Tyler and Mary E. Rumpho, via Rutgers:

What can we learn from this information? From Rutgers Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology Professor Debashish Bhattacharya:

“The broader implication is in the field of artificial photosynthesis. That is, if we can figure out how the slug maintains stolen, isolated plastids to fix carbon without the plant nucleus, then maybe we can also harness isolated plastids for eternity as green machines to create bioproducts or energy. The existing paradigm is that to make green energy, we need the plant or alga to run the photosynthetic organelle, but the slug shows us that this does not have to be the case.”

mixotrophyWatch these related videos next:
• What is Mixotrophy?
These stunning sea slugs steal ‘weapons’ from their ingested hydroid prey
• Artificial Photosynthesis (in LEGO)
Learning from leaves: Going green with artificial photosynthesis

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