Stolen DNA

Last night I settled down to read the next issue of BBC Wildlife magazine, which arrived yesterday. Only eighteen pages in and I’ve already read something bamboozling: several species of seaslug can photosynthesise.

Nature's weird and wacky - not my image
Nature’s weird and wacky – not my image

Looking at a seaslug such as this one, you’d think it simply swallowed a giant leaf. However, it may well have just stolen chloroplasts from the algae that it eats and used them to release its own energy from sunlight.

Here’s what’s even more strange. Normally chloroplasts would stop working after a few days in these conditions, but in green seaslugs (Elysia chlorotica) they keep going for months. Amazingly, the animal has found a way of inserting the algae’s genes into its own chromosomes, allowing the seaslug to keep using the chloroplasts that they code for.

This is a fascinating example of a species going to great lengths to survive. This level of innovation is brilliant, and shows that even the most unattractive of species deserve a lot more respect from the rest of us.

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