Different lives on this Earth have different rules and patterns. Plants do not go roaming around as they have the special ability to harness the sun’s energy. But animals do not have that amazing power for photosynthesis. So most of them usually seek plants and eat them.
But there is one little sea slug who does not care much about the rules of life. Today I’m going to tell you about this amazing little creature. These animals are known as Elysia Chlorotica and can be found on the East Coast of the USA.
These slugs have an unusual eating pattern. Instead of munching algae, they steal molecular engines from plants which allow them to harvest solar energy. These mini-machines are called chloroplasts. This sea slug takes those chloroplasts into their skins and turns them into emerald green. These are an inch or two in their size and look like a little green leaf.
Scientists have done lots of experiments on these sea slugs and according to them, these slugs can live nine or more months without eating anything. As they have chloroplasts stolen from plants, they can photosynthesize and eating doesn’t matter to them. When they are exposed to CO2 and Light, they can incorporate CO2 into their organic matter using photosynthesis.
When considering the sea slug species, these Elysia chlorotica is the one that can purloin chloroplasts and catch rays through them well. Because of this, these sea plugs have gained huge attention among scientists who do research in the fields of gene therapy and immunology.
But the thing is, these amazing sea slugs are becoming increasingly rare now. And also most of the researchers and experts who studied these creatures have now retired and moved on to other areas.
Researches done on these slugs have provided few answers to the questions regarding their behavior. But there are many unsolved mysteries about these slugs. Now I’m going to tell you about such mysteries.
To keep running chloroplasts, the bodies need to have lots of special proteins produced by thousands of algal genes. But nobody knows how these sea slugs keep running chloroplasts in their bodies without having those special proteins.
Usually, photosynthesis cause to produce lots of free oxygen radicals at a level that most of animals cannot tolerate. But why photosynthesis or chloroplasts don’t hurt these sea slugs? And also why these chloroplasts are not destroyed inside these slugs? How do these sea slugs interact with these chloroplasts biochemically? Why doesn’t the immune system of these sea slugs attack foreign entities? These are some of the mysteries that haven’t been resolved yet about these sea slugs.
During the last couple of years, only one research group could find these sea slugs. Sidney Pierce, a retired researcher at South Florida University led the research group and they could collect these sea slugs at a salt march in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Like all the others who have studied these sea slugs, he didn’t make the information public due to the scarcity of the animal.
And also Karen Pelletreau, a researcher at the University of Maine used to research these sea slugs and she could catch them at Martha’s Vineyard and a spot in Nova Scotia. She also searched several areas in Maine, but she couldn’t find them.
“If you don’t know exactly what you are looking for and where you are looking, you won’t be able to find it” says Mary Rumpho- Kennedy, who spent decades studying this amazing creature and retired several years ago. And also he was the former advisor of Karen Pelletreau.
Krug was another person who lived on West Coast and studied about these sea slugs and tried to find them around Woods Hole, Massachusetts. But he had no luck. He mainly studies about a genus called Alderia, which same to Elysia Chlorotica, lives in salt marshes and eats the same algae. According to him, nobody has conducted a population study about these creatures.
These green critters are also very difficult to raise in a lab. To breed, adults need to be well cared. They typically live less than a year. When the eggs are laid, they hatch into free-swimming form and eat some different kinds of algae. Then when they become young adults, they begin to depend on different food, slow-growing algae called Vaucheria Litorea.
They usually eat those algae faster than we could ever grow. It’s like having teenagers in a house.” Said Pierce. As two groups, Pierce and the team of Rumpho successfully bred and raised generations of these amazing sea slugs in laboratories. They could also produce several levels of mucus, which complicates the molecular analysis and DNA.
According to the studies done by Pierce, a sea slug’s genome consists of genes transferred from algae. It is an incredible biochemical that helps with genetic manipulation in other animals. But those findings were disputed by some European Researchers and by Rumpho.