I’m basically in traction tonight thanks to a sledding mishap over the weekend. I don’t want to overwhelm you with graphic details, but let’s just say that you don’t want to introduce your spine to the corner of a metal utility box when you’re traveling downhill on ice at several feet per second. So, I’m lying here on the bed, trying not to cough, or move, or do anything else that might upset my cracked ribs, and I’m catching up on the news. Right now, I’m reading about a kind of sea slug that has somehow taught itself to photosynthesize, and I’m completely fascinated. Here’s a clip from Wired:
…Shaped like a leaf itself, the slug Elysia chlorotica already has a reputation for kidnapping the photosynthesizing organelles and some genes from algae. Now it turns out that the slug has acquired enough stolen goods to make an entire plant chemical-making pathway work inside an animal body, says Sidney K. Pierce of the University of South Florida in Tampa.
The slugs can manufacture the most common form of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants that captures energy from sunlight, Pierce reported January 7 at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. Pierce used a radioactive tracer to show that the slugs were making the pigment, called chlorophyll a, themselves and not simply relying on chlorophyll reserves stolen from the algae the slugs dine on.
“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…
And now I’m wondering how long it might be before we try to introduce these genes into other species. We’re already making fluorescent rabbits, so why not people that can photosynthesize? I wouldn’t mind having green arms if it meant saving 20% on my weekly grocery bill, would you?