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Solar powered sea slugs shed light on search for perpetual green energy

Date: 14.5.2018 

In an amazing achievement akin to adding solar panels to your body, a Northeast sea slug sucks raw materials from algae to provide its lifetime supply of solar-powered energy, according to a study by Rutgers University-New Brunswick and other scientists. 
Kredit: Karen N. Pelletreau/University of Maine.

"It's a remarkable feat because it's highly unusual for an animal to behave like a plant and survive solely on photosynthesis," said Debashish Bhattacharya, senior author of the study and distinguished professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Rutgers-New Brunswick.

"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."

The sea slug Elysia chlorotica, a mollusk that can grow to more than 2 inches long, has been found in the intertidal zone between Nova Scotia, Canada, and Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, as well as in Florida. Juvenile sea slugs eat the nontoxic brown alga Vaucheria litorea and become photosynthetic - or solar-powered - after stealing millions of algal plastids, which are like tiny solar panels, and storing them in their gut lining.

 


 

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