Photosynthesis from stolen chloroplasts can support sea slug reproductive fitness

Paulo Cartaxana, Felisa Rey, Charlotte Lekieffre, Diana Lopes, Cédric Hubas, Jorge E. Spangenberg, Stéphane Escrig, Bruno Jesus, Gonçalo Calado, Rosário Domingues, Michael Kühl, Ricardo Calado, Anders Meibom, Sónia Cruz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


Some sea slugs are able to steal functional chloroplasts (kleptoplasts) from their algal food sources, but the role and relevance of photosynthesis to the animal host remain controversial. While some researchers claim that kleptoplasts are slowly digestible 'snacks', others advocate that they enhance the overall fitness of sea slugs much more profoundly. Our analysis shows light-dependent incorporation of 13 C and 15 N in the albumen gland and gonadal follicles of the sea slug Elysia timida, representing translocation of photosynthates to kleptoplast-free reproductive organs. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids with reported roles in reproduction were produced in the sea slug cells using labelled precursors translocated from the kleptoplasts. Finally, we report reduced fecundity of E. timida by limiting kleptoplast photosynthesis. The present study indicates that photosynthesis enhances the reproductive fitness of kleptoplast-bearing sea slugs, confirming the biological relevance of this remarkable association between a metazoan and an algal-derived organelle.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20211779
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1959
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • fatty acid
  • kleptoplast
  • reproduction
  • Sacoglossa


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