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Green-Gene Swapping

Via Wired.com. Scientists have discovered a sea slug that takes the green photosynthetic organelles called chloroplasts from the algae it eats and hold them inside its own cells. The result: an animal that can feed itself using photosynthesis, like a plant.

From the article: “[O]nce a young slug has slurped its first chloroplast meal from one of its few favored species of algae, the slug does not have to eat again for the rest of its life. All it has to do is sunbathe.”

Sidney K. Pierce of the University of South Florida in Tampa used a radioactive tracer to show that the slugs were actually making chlorophyll themselves, not simply relying on chlorophyll reserves stolen from the algae the slugs dine on. Pierce and his colleagues have found  photosynthesis-related genes in the slugs — even unhatched sea slugs, which have never encountered algae, carry “algal” photosynthetic genes.

“This could be a fusion of a plant and an animal — that’s just cool,” said invertebrate zoologist John Zardus of The Citadel in Charleston, S.C. Microbes swap genes readily, but Zardus said he couldn’t think of another natural example of genes flowing between multicellular kingdoms.

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