Apparently this sea snail's first creature whose body was half the flora, fauna and a half. The reason is that these newly discovered snail can produce pigment chlorophyll like plants. Scientists estimate this cleverly stealing snail genes from the algae they eat so they can produce chlorophyll. With the stolen genes they can photosynthesise, that is the process plants to convert sunlight into energy.
"These animals can make molecules contain energy without eating anything," said Sydney Pierce, an expert in biology from the University of South Florida in Tampa. Pierce has been studying these unique creatures, which have been officially named Elysia chlorotica, over 20 years.
He submitted its latest findings on January 7, 2010, at the annual meeting of the Community Integrative and Comparative Biology in Seattle. This finding was first reported by the journal Science. "This is the first multicellular animals may produce chlorophyll," said Pierce.
These sea slugs live in salt water marshes in New England, Canada. In addition to stealing the gene to produce the green pigment chlorophyll, these animals also stole a small parts of cells called chloroplasts, which are used to perform photosynthesis. Chloroplasts using chlorophyll to convert sunlight into energy, like plants, so these animals do not need to eat to get energy.
"We collect a number of these animals and save them in an aquarium for months," Pierce said, "As long as they are given light for 12 hours a day, they can survive (without meals)."
The investigators used a radioactive tracer to ensure that these snails actually produce chlorophyll, and not a pigment that has been stolen from the alga. In fact, the snails is to integrate genetic material with so perfect that can be derived in the next generation.
The children of the snails that have been stealing the gene itself can also produce chlorophyll, though they can not eat enough photosynthesise before they could steal enough algae to the chloroplast. So far it has not been able to chloroplast their own production. The success of the snails was amazing, and scientists are still uncertain how this animal could choose genes that they need.
"Maybe just the DNA from one species could get into other species, as has been evidenced by this snail species. But the mechanism is still unknown," said Pierce.