Elysia chlorotica sea snail

Sea snails are not among the animals that arouse the greatest interest in the marine universe, they don't usually have a particularly nice appearance, they don't jump like dolphins and they don't do violent things like other creatures such as killer whales and sharks. There is a nice exception to mention in this category and it is theElysia Chlorotica. It began to make itself known thanks to a series of studies that highlighted a particular characteristic that made it deserve the name of solar-powered sea snail.

Elysia Chlorotica and chlorophyll photosynthesis

This particular snail belongs to the suborder of sacoglosses and it is a mollusk. Its main feature consists in the presence of chloroplasts in its cells, literally incorporated, taken from the algae it eats. To get nourishment it uses the chlorophyll synthesis thanks to these very small organelles that are usually present in the cells of plants and in eukaryotic algae. It is inside them that chlorophyll photosynthesis takes place and it is possible to obtain chemical energy by transforming light energy mainly captured by chlorophyll pigments. That this wonderful process takes place inside a mollusk is an absolutely exceptional event and it is only thanks to this incorporate chloroplasts that Elysia Cholorotica is able to do this by distinguishing itself from its colleagues.

The diet for this snail is very important and is based on the algae of the mesolitoral plane Vaucheria Costiea. He approaches them and with his radula pierces their cell membrane. He is able to hold a filament with his mouth and skillfully suck the contents. It does not digest it entirely nor does it excrete it completely but it is able to retain and incorporate these chloroplasts that are incorporated into cells which make up its digestive system. This mechanism allows some of these mollusks to use photosynthesis for over 10 years, feeding only a few times. When young this snail to hold back the chloroplasts it must feed continuously but then the incorporation becomes a stable process, they become part of the cells of the digestive and intestinal tract and Elysia begins to turn green without the need to eat algae.

Elysia Chlorotica: where she lives

In Italy to date, climate change permitting, we do not find this mollusk that lives overseas, on the east coast of North America, from Texas, through the Florida and as far north as Nova Scotia, Canada. They are found in abundance on the island of Martha's Vineyard.

Elysia Chlorotica: characteristics

These are not immediately and always green sea ​​snails at solar energies but when they are small they are mostly brown, with red spots. After a while on an algae-based diet, they begin to take on a green color. If we want to imagine them, they come to one average length of 5 centimeters, not much more and they have a body that very much resembles a long tube.

Solar powered sea snail: the study

The team of researchers who definitively unraveled the mechanism by which these animals feed comes from Rutgers University in New Brunswick. To carry out this study that has gone around the world, he used RNA sequencing and collected data to show that the snail it is capable of protecting plastids from digestion and activates specific genes. What happens in such a small organism is very similar to what happens in solar panels and it is as if in a sense an animal incorporated a couple of them.

The case of Elysia is also particular because it is really rare to see an animal in nature that It "mimics" the behavior of plants even becoming able to sustain itself using their nourishment mechanism, chlorophyll photosynthesis. In addition to amazement, there is more. The discoverers of the secret of the green snail themselves explained that there are interesting implications in the field of artificial photosynthesis. Continuing to deepen what happens in his body, we will be able to understand how he physically incorporates the stolen plastids into his body and keeps them. It appears to isolate them to fix the carbon without the plant core. In the future, might we be able to replicate this process? If so, it would mean opening the way to the creation of bioproducts or green energy.

Sacoglossi: characteristics

They are a sub-category of molluscs, the one to which theElysia Cholorotica. Most of the species belonging to this category walk around shellless except for the species belonging to the Volvatellidae, Oxynoidae and Juliidae families. It should be remembered that the shells of some species of Volvatellidae and Oxynoidae resemble those of some Cephalaspidea and are confused. Within this subgroup, there are originalities such as that of Elysia with its colorful livery and a nutritional mechanism that makes news

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