Send to

Choose Destination
Mol Biol Evol. 2013 Aug;30(8):1843-52. doi: 10.1093/molbev/mst084. Epub 2013 May 2.

Genome analysis of Elysia chlorotica Egg DNA provides no evidence for horizontal gene transfer into the germ line of this Kleptoplastic Mollusc.

Author information

Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources and Institute of Marine and Coastal Science, Rutgers University.


The sea slug Elysia chlorotica offers a unique opportunity to study the evolution of a novel function (photosynthesis) in a complex multicellular host. Elysia chlorotica harvests plastids (absent of nuclei) from its heterokont algal prey, Vaucheria litorea. The "stolen" plastids are maintained for several months in cells of the digestive tract and are essential for animal development. The basis of long-term maintenance of photosynthesis in this sea slug was thought to be explained by extensive horizontal gene transfer (HGT) from the nucleus of the alga to the animal nucleus, followed by expression of algal genes in the gut to provide essential plastid-destined proteins. Early studies of target genes and proteins supported the HGT hypothesis, but more recent genome-wide data provide conflicting results. Here, we generated significant genome data from the E. chlorotica germ line (egg DNA) and from V. litorea to test the HGT hypothesis. Our comprehensive analyses fail to provide evidence for alga-derived HGT into the germ line of the sea slug. Polymerase chain reaction analyses of genomic DNA and cDNA from different individual E. chlorotica suggest, however, that algal nuclear genes (or gene fragments) are present in the adult slug. We suggest that these nucleic acids may derive from and/or reside in extrachromosomal DNAs that are made available to the animal through contact with the alga. These data resolve a long-standing issue and suggest that HGT is not the primary reason underlying long-term maintenance of photosynthesis in E. chlorotica. Therefore, sea slug photosynthesis is sustained in as yet unexplained ways that do not appear to endanger the animal germ line through the introduction of dozens of foreign genes.


Elysia chlorotica; Vaucheria litorea; genomics; horizontal gene transfer; kleptoplasty; symbiosis

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Silverchair Information Systems Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center