Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mollusks on Mars!

I emailed my friend the other day to let her know that I'd written about our slug conversation (here, and then again here; I'm a bit obsessed), and she gave me a little more information to share with you.

First, here's a link to the lab she works in at Cal State LA. It has lots of really cool photos of the beautiful sea slugs she works with. I think they're called sacoglossa slugs; they practice something called "kleptoplasty." That's a cool word, isn't it? Somehow this kleptoplasty makes them solar-powered, which I don't totally understand (thanks a lot, Wikipedia!) but seems really cool.

Actually, this makes a little sense to me (???):
The sacoglossans can utilise the chloroplasts of the algae on which they feed, which they keep alive for hours to months after their ingestion. They maintain the cells and metabolise the photosynthetic products; this process is termed kleptoplasty, and the sacoglossans are the only animals to employ it; some ciliates and foramanifera (protists) also employ the strategy. Wikipedia.
So they eat the algae and keep it ['s chlorplasts*] alive, which seems a little... brutal, but I guess it's "just" algae, right? Like... lettuce, I suppose? Do I have to read up on algae now? And that somehow makes them solar-powered. Also, these guys have teeth. Oh, and apparently they can turn the same algae stuff that they use for energy (do I understand that right?) into a toxin that they deploy against their enemies! I mean, come on! These guys are pretty smart. What if we could do that? I'll eat a little Greek yogurt for breakfast, and then later, when some bad guy is messing with me? Pow! There's some Greek yogurt for you, asshole!

(That website refers to their "violent mating habits", and that worries me a little. Perhaps more than the fact that they have teeth. The animal kingdom is freaky.)

In our follow up email conversation, she also used the probably very scientific term "terrestrial slug" to refer to the ones in my backyard (as opposed to the ones in the ocean), and that word got me thinking about... (of course, because at my heart I am a nerd) extra-terrestrial slugs. She told me that her advisor, who is a pretty big name in the sea slug world, was asked to try to identify the famous "mollusk on Mars."

Anyway, there you go. More than you ever wanted to know about slugs, maybe. Not me. I am sort of both attracted and repelled by the topic! It's much more fun to think about than I would've ever thought.

*Ah! Now I get it:

Chloroplasts capture light energy, store it in the energy storage molecules ATP and NADPH and use it in the process called photosynthesis to make organic molecules and free oxygen from carbon dioxide and water. Wikipedia.

1 comment:

  1. I love slugs, and snails, the small slimy things that go sweetly about their business in a peaceful fashion. :)