Livin’ on ur plants, harvestin ur sunshine
The ability to gather sunlight and convert it to useable energy has been the plant kingdom’s longstanding trump card (along with some bacteria and fungi) when it comes to “greatest evolutionary adaptation known”. Unlike the rest of the tree of life ,photosynthetic organisms have billions of years worth of free energy to count on. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of solar food. The evolution of the animal world actually wouldn’t have happened if photosynthetic organisms hadn’t started pumping oxygen into our atmosphere in the early years of Earth.
For the first time, scientists have found evidence that an insect shares this ability. Some pea aphids, like the one pictured above, can produce plant-like orange pigments called carotenoids. In addition to chlorophyll, these are the same compounds that leaves use to harvest light, and also why we get those beautiful browns and oranges in autumn.
The aphid seems to have “stolen” the genes from a fungus, and then through some non-photosynthetic mechanism, is using the pigments to create ATP, life’s energy currency.
This isn’t the first time a larger organism has developed the ability to harvest sunlight! A sea slug was discovered a few years ago that borrowed photosynthetic genes from microscopic algae. Looks like the branches on that tree of life cross over more than we thought.
More at Scientific American.