Monthly Archives: January 2010
This is actually kind of neat, the first example I’ve heard of of an animal that shares plant traits, namely the ability to use photosynthesis, in this article by Susan Milius. It’s a species of algae-eating sea-slug that can incorporate the genes for making chloroplasts, the organelles that green plants use for making sugars from carbon dioxide, water and sunlight.
Anyhoo, the Science News article had this to say…
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.
This kind of reminds me of the green woman with the pixie wings from the Dominion Tank Police anime series, at least in terms of the possibilities of engineering something with a human-like metabolism to use photosynthesis, though admittedly I’m inclined to agree with this article by Catherine Brahic on New Scientist.
Aside from the points raised there, as a layman I would speculate at the most feasibly that any bioengineered photosynthetic human retaining a warm-blooded metabolism would have to spend the entire daylight period absorbing sunlight and could only be active at night, which would make for a very different world. We humans, with the possible exception of couch potatoes, use up an awful lot of calories in our daily routine, probably more than photosynthesis alone can practically provide.
Hmmm, nocturnal humans — might be interesting in a world where everyone is afraid of the daytime — after all, that’s when monsters come out to eat you while you’re sleeping/sunbathing, and can’t run away! Sounds like the plot of a science-fiction novel I may have read…
One of the statements from the first article linked to echos my sentiments well…
“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.
Zardus, who says that he tries to maintain healthy skepticism as a matter of principle, would like to hear more about how the team controlled for algal contamination.
…as does another from the same…
“Bizarre,” said Gary Martin, a crustacean biologist at Occidental College in Los Angeles. “Steps in evolution can be more creative than I ever imagined.”
After over a week, there’s been an awful lot of rather…lively discussion in the scientific community, and if this finding holds up under the peer-review process, it will be very interesting to know something about the possibility of finding more ‘plantimals’ like this, and the practical applications of the cross-over of genetic traits, between multicellular organisms. Fnord.