Gene Stealing, Plant Impersonating Sea Slug!

Yale Environment 360: Plant-Like Sea Slug Can Steal Genes From its Food, Researchers Report

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04 Feb 2015: Plant-Like Sea Slug Can Steal
Genes From its Food, Researchers Report

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sea slug Elysia chlorotica

Patrick Krug
Sea slug Elysia chlorotica

The emerald green, leaf-shaped sea slug known as Elysia chlorotica can live for months at a time by photosynthesizing its own food, like a plant does, but until recently scientists did not understand how the slug acquired and maintained this rare ability. A recent report in the journal The Biological Bulletin shows that the slug steals genes and chloroplasts — the cellular machinery that converts sunlight into food — from algae that the slug eats. Genes lifted from the algae can maintain cholorplasts in the slug for up to nine months, the researchers say — much longer than the chloroplasts would last in the algae themselves. Moreover, the slug can pass on those stolen genes to its offspring. The process is a mechanism of rapid evolution, says study co-author Sidney Pierce. “When a successful transfer of genes between species occurs, evolution can basically happen from one generation to the next,” he notes, rather than over an evolutionary time scale of thousands of years.