It is an animal, it is a plant.., er, it is a planimal!!
Imagine if you had the ability to make your own food whenever you want it, if you could take a trip across the country and never have to take a bite of food on the way. Most of the wars people have fought in the past have been about food and money in some form or the other, and the reason why we kill animals is to provide ourselves with food. Wouldn’t it be great if the basic need to feed ourselves on a daily basis completely goes away, and all we have to do to get energy is to gulp down some dirt, drink some water, and walk around in the Sun to get energy boost.
Now you might be thinking this is not possible. But, the sea slug, Elysia Chlorotica, can, because it feeds by sucking out the insides of stands of algae and using it to make its own food. This doesn’t mean it can’t eat any other way. It can also munch on any other food just like any other sea creature. It can choose to make its own food when it can’t find any or it is hurt or sick. In nature, plants have been producing their own food for millions of years through the process of photosynthesis. In order for the photosynthesis to take place, plants need nutrients from soil, water, carbon dioxide from the air, and sunlight. Chloroplasts are the cells in the plant that combine those elements with the help of Chlorophyll to produce sugar or plant food.
When Elysia Chlorotica feeds by sucking the insides of the algae it gets the chloroplasts from the algae and uses them for photosynthesis. The only reason that it has the ability to do so is because it doesn’t digest the chloroplasts, instead it absorbs them into its blood stream as a whole. This unique ability of the sea slug to absorb and retain the chloroplasts gives it the power to create its own food, and it is the same reason why we can’t create our own food.
In order for the photosynthesis to happen there has to be a regular supply of chlorophyll. There different theories to explain how the sea slug managed this supply of chlorophyll. One theory was that the chloroplasts came with a lifetime supply of chlorophyll, which meant that there was enough chlorophyll to last one year (which is the average lifetime of a sea slug). More recently, they found that is not the case. They currently believe unlike other animals, the sea slugs make their supply of chlorophyll.
This just means that the sea slugs not only stole the cooks (chloroplasts) but also the ingredients (chlorophyll) for photosynthesis from the algae. The most interesting part of this discovery is that this is the first instance of an animal mimicking a plant. If humans were to ever develop this ability that Elysia Chlorotica has, you can very well imagine that would be the beginning of the end for world hunger!