Thursday, July 26, 2012

Solar Powered Sea Slugs

Latin Name: Elysia chlorotica

This animal had caused quite a stir in the scientific community when it was discovered that it ran on solar energy. Known as the "Solar Powered Sea Slug", this creature inhabits the Atlantic seaboard of the United States and has a green, gelatinous, leaf-shaped body. Scientists have quentioned how this sea slug can run on solar energy, but finally, Mary Rumpho of the Univerity of Maine has discovered the answer. According to her, this sea slug obtain chloroplasts, the organelles in plant cells that are responsible for photosynthesis, from the algae that it feeds on and then stores those stolen chloroplasts in the cells that line its gut. However, the main question Rumpho is facing is "how?".

<I>Elysia chlorotica</I>, the solar-powered sea slug, is about 3 cm long (Image: PNAS)
Elysia chlorotica

There are several possibilities. Rumpho had later discovered that the Solar Powered Sea Slug had vital genes essential to algae photosynthesis in its DNA. A possibility is that when the sea slug feeds on the algae, not only does it takes the chloroplasts, but it also takes some of its genes and incorporate them into its own DNA. Then, those "stolen" genes would produce proteins that would continue the photosynthesis process of the "stolen" chloroplasts. Discoveries have been made that these "stolen" genes can be passed down to the next generation.

From all this, one can fantasize when animals or even humans can obtain the ability of photosynthesis. Discoveries were made that young Solar Power Sea Slugs can survive for the rest of their year-long lives after eating algae for two weeks. If humans could do the same and live off the energy of the sun, it could solve a lot of problems involving food shortages and environmental concerns. Unfortunately, scientists have agreed that there is no possible way for humans to do the same with their own digestive systems.

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