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Zoology (Jena). 2001;104(3-4):303-12.

Mollusc/algal chloroplast symbiosis: how can isolated chloroplasts continue to function for months in the cytosol of a sea slug in the absence of an algal nucleus?

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Dept. of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology, University of Maine, Orono 04469-5735, USA.


A marine sea slug, Elysia chlorotica, has acquired the ability to carry out photosynthesis as a result of forming an intracellular symbiotic association with chloroplasts of the chromophytic alga, Vaucheria litorea. The symbiont chloroplasts (kleptoplasts) are functional, i.e. they evolve oxygen and fix CO(2) and actively transcribe and translate proteins for several months in the sea slug cytosol. Considering the dependency of plastid function on nuclear genes, the level of kleptoplast activity observed in the animal cell is quite remarkable. Possible factors contributing to this long-lasting functional association that are considered here include: the presence of an algal nuclear genome in the sea slug, autonomous chloroplasts, unusual chloroplast/protein stability, re-directing of animal proteins to the kleptoplast, and lateral gene transfer. Based on our current understanding, the acquisition and incorporation of intact algal plastids by E. chlorotica is aided by the robustness of the plastids and the long-term functional activity of the kleptoplasts appears to be supported by both plastid and protein stability and contributions from the sea slug.


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