Comparison of sister species identifies factors underpinning plastid compatibility in green sea slugs

J Vries, C Woehle, G Christa, H Wagele, Lodewijk Tielens, P Jahns, SB Gould

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The only animal cells known that can maintain functional plastids (kleptoplasts) in their cytosol occur in the digestive gland epithelia of sacoglossan slugs. Only a few species of the many hundred known can profit from kleptoplasty during starvation long-term, but why is not understood. The two sister taxa Elysia cornigera and Elysia timida sequester plastids from the same algal species, but with a very different outcome: while E. cornigera usually dies within the first two weeks when deprived of food, E. timida can survive for many months to come. Here we compare the responses of the two slugs to starvation, blocked photosynthesis and light stress. The two species respond differently, but in both starvation is the main denominator that alters global gene expression profiles. The kleptoplasts' ability to fix CO2 decreases at a similar rate in both slugs during starvation, but only E. cornigera individuals die in the presence of functional kleptoplasts, concomitant with the accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the digestive tract. We show that profiting from the acquisition of robust plastids, and key to E. timida's longer survival, is determined by an increased starvation tolerance that keeps ROS levels at bay.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences
Issue number1802
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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