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An animal that can photosynthesize!

 
 
littlek
 
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 04:42 am
A salamander was found to have the ability to photosynthesize. Youngersters (at least) have small bits of algae in their cells. Previously there was a clear distinction between vertebrate animals and plants. This is big news!
http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/jmogerman/solar-powered_salamander.html

Imagine if we could photosynthesize! The global food shortages would no longer exist!
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Type: Discussion • Score: 12 • Views: 5,912 • Replies: 22
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tsarstepan
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 04:47 am
@littlek,
And they got those really cool spots that certain teenagers would find quite fashionable as accessories! Wink

What a cool story LK! Thanks for sharing. Very Happy

0 Replies
 
Khethil
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 05:26 am
Indeed, thanks. This is a significant find
0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 06:06 am
@littlek,
Wow!!!!!!
0 Replies
 
Roberta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 06:34 am
What Deb said.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 07:06 am
@littlek,
That is fascinating! I especially liked this part:

Quote:
In fact, the symbiotic partners were often found bordering mitochondria, organelles responsible for generating a cell's energy. Thus, it's likely that the mitochondria were taking direct advantage of the oxygen and carbohydrate, byproducts of photosynthesis that were generated by the algae.

Mitochondria themselves probably derive from single-celled organisms that animal cells incorporated sometime in our evolutionary history. They have their own DNA and their own process of passing it on. (Mitochondrial DNA inherits from mother to child, rather than through the mixing-and-maxing process of sexual reproduction.) So in a way, we animals all got our power plants by annexing single-celled organisms into our cells. Now this salamander takes it one step farther and also annexes the solar-powered chemical plants producing the fuels.
0 Replies
 
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 07:31 am
@littlek,
Interesting. I had heard about Jellyfish that could do this (photosynthesize), but not any vertebrates.

I wonder how many other amphibians are configured this way.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 08:24 am
@rosborne979,
Quote:
I had heard about Jellyfish that could do this (photosynthesize),

Indeed---meet the non-stinging, photosynthesising, sweetwater jellyfish of Jellyfish Lake on Palau, Micronesia. They, too, are incredibly interesting creatures.

http://i286.photobucket.com/albums/ll88/guthobla/A2K/JellyfishLake.jpg

There's more images where that one came from.
0 Replies
 
InfraBlue
 
  2  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 08:35 am
Here's a link to the source article about the spotted salamanders:

http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100730/full/news.2010.384.html
0 Replies
 
littlek
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 09:12 am
Thomas - but the salamander is a vertebrate.

Infra - thanks!

The importance of imagination and experimentation in science - from the article infra posted....

Quote:
Because vertebrate cells have what is known as an adaptive immune system — which destroys biological material not considered 'self' — it was thought to be impossible for a symbiont to live stably inside them. But, in this case, the salamander cells have either turned their internal immune system off, or the algae have somehow bypassed it.

"On a lark, I decided to take a long-exposure fluorescent image of a pre-hatchling salamander embryo," says Kerney. When this revealed widely scattered dots of unstained cells fluorescing in the background — an indicator that those cells might contain chlorophyll — Kerney switched to transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to take a closer look.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 09:25 am
@littlek,
There's the magic of evolution for you. All it takes is one exemplar of the species with one heritable blind spot in its immune system. And---abracadabra!---a symbiont turns into an organelle.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 11:14 am
Bottom-of-the-envelope calculation: If our skin had clorophyll embedded in it like the salamanders do, what percentage of our energy needs could we satisfy with solar energy?

  • The surface of our bodies is about two square meters, of which at most half can face the sun. Assume we're all naked, and we can call it one square meter of skin facing the sun.

  • On a normal day, the power of the (visible-spectrum) sunlight shining unto the Earth is something like 500 Watts per square meter.

  • So if all light hitting on our bodies was converted into useable energy, that would be 500 Watts times 60 seconds per minute times 60 minutes per hour times 24 hours per day, for a total of 43,200 kilojoule. or about 10,000 kilocalories.

  • A German dieting book I own uses the rule of thumb that you need to eat 30 kilocalories(*) per day for every kilogram of bodyweight you wish to keep. For a body of average weight, 70 kg or 155 lb say, that would be 2100 kilocalories.

So the answer is that the photosynthesic process in our skin could supply all the energy we need if its efficiency is 21% or better. That strikes me as achievable. Genetic engineers, start your sequencing engines!

------
(*) Colloquial English drops the "kilo" and just calls a kilocalorie a calorie. This usage, however common, is off by a factor of thousand.
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 11:34 am
I wonder why salamanders are smarter than humans?

BBB
0 Replies
 
littlek
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 11:43 am
BBB - smarter? I think just evolutionarily older. That's my guess anyway.

Thomas - I was thinking if we could all get, say, 20% of our energy from the sun, that our food shortage would be a lot less. Think of where the biggest shortages are - deserts with lots of sun.
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 12:02 pm
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:
[*] So if all light hitting on our bodies was converted into useable energy, that would be 500 Watts times 60 seconds per minute times 60 minutes per hour times 24 hours per day, for a total of 43,200 kilojoule. or about 10,000 kilocalories.

What if we assume the efficiency is similar to that of a leaf? How much would that get us?
littlek
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 12:12 pm
@littlek,
To add to my last post: even if we were able to get 100% energy from photosynthesis, we'd still have to eat to get other nutrients. What if we got too much sun and had too many calories?
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 12:16 pm
@rosborne979,
rosborne979 wrote:
What if we assume the efficiency is similar to that of a leaf? How much would that get us?

Wikipedia gives 25% for visible light, the part of the spectrum that my 500 Watts refer to. That's consistent with the value I remember learning in my biophysics classes. As I said, the 21% needed sound quite realistic.

... on second thought: the sun only shines 12 hours a day, so we probably couldn't quite survive on sunlight alone. We'd continue to need a beer or two every evening to get us through the night. And there's nothing wrong with that.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  2  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 12:25 pm
@littlek,
littlek wrote:
To add to my last post: even if we were able to get 100% energy from photosynthesis, we'd still have to eat to get other nutrients. What if we got too much sun and had too many calories?

Then I'll buy up dark caves around the world, convert them into weight-loss resorts and $$$ GET RICH QUICK!!! $$$. I'll cut you in if you want because you gave me the idea.

Good point about the other nutrients. We'd still need protein to build muscle, plus vitamins, plus minerals.
0 Replies
 
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 01:50 pm
@Thomas,
Quote:
Bottom-of-the-envelope calculation:


Is this a direct translation, Thomas? I've always heard back of an envelope/napkin calculation

Quote:
A German dieting book I own uses the rule of thumb that you need to eat 30 kilocalories(*) per day for every kilogram of bodyweight you wish to keep. For a body of average weight, 70 kg or 155 lb say, that would be 2100 kilocalories.

...

------
(*) Colloquial English drops the "kilo" and just calls a kilocalorie a calorie. This usage, however common, is off by a factor of thousand.


I don't understand this. Does this have to do with the difference between how BrE and NaE deals with large numbers?
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Aug, 2010 02:23 pm
@JTT,
JTT, I meant back-of-the-envelope. I garbled it, probably because, while writing the post, I was thinking a thought involving the word "bottom line".

As to dropping the "kilo" in "kilocalories", it's a mistake in all variants of English I'm aware of. Germans make the same mistake too.Whenever people say, "I'm on a 1500-calorie diet", they're telling us they're really on a 1500-kilocalorie diet, according to the physical definition of what a calorie is. (It's the amount of energy required for heating a gram of water by one degree Celsius---or 4.2 Joule.) It's no big deal, just something to keep in mind when talking physics with interested laypeople.
 

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