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Genome Biol Evol. 2013;5(12):2540-8. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evt205.

Is ftsH the key to plastid longevity in sacoglossan slugs?

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Institute of Molecular Evolution, Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany.


Plastids sequestered by sacoglossan sea slugs have long been a puzzle. Some sacoglossans feed on siphonaceous algae and can retain the plastids in the cytosol of their digestive gland cells. There, the stolen plastids (kleptoplasts) can remain photosynthetically active in some cases for months. Kleptoplast longevity itself challenges current paradigms concerning photosystem turnover, because kleptoplast photosystems remain active in the absence of nuclear algal genes. In higher plants, nuclear genes are essential for plastid maintenance, in particular, for the constant repair of the D1 protein of photosystem II. Lateral gene transfer was long suspected to underpin slug kleptoplast longevity, but recent transcriptomic and genomic analyses show that no algal nuclear genes are expressed from the slug nucleus. Kleptoplast genomes themselves, however, appear expressed in the sequestered state. Here we present sequence data for the chloroplast genome of Acetabularia acetabulum, the food source of the sacoglossan Elysia timida, which can maintain Acetabularia kleptoplasts in an active state for months. The data reveal what might be the key to sacoglossan kleptoplast longevity: plastids that remain photosynthetically active within slugs for periods of months share the property of encoding ftsH, a D1 quality control protease that is essential for photosystem II repair. In land plants, ftsH is always nuclear encoded, it was transferred to the nucleus from the plastid genome when Charophyta and Embryophyta split. A replenishable supply of ftsH could, in principle, rescue kleptoplasts from D1 photodamage, thereby influencing plastid longevity in sacoglossan slugs.


D1; ftsH; light stress; photosystem II; plastid genomes; sacoglossa

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