Lipid accumulation during the establishment of kleptoplasty in Elysia chlorotica

PLoS One. 2014 May 14;9(5):e97477. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0097477. eCollection 2014.


The establishment of kleptoplasty (retention of "stolen plastids") in the digestive tissue of the sacoglossan Elysia chlorotica Gould was investigated using transmission electron microscopy. Cellular processes occurring during the initial exposure to plastids were observed in laboratory raised animals ranging from 1-14 days post metamorphosis (dpm). These observations revealed an abundance of lipid droplets (LDs) correlating to plastid abundance. Starvation of animals resulted in LD and plastid decay in animals <5 dpm that had not yet achieved permanent kleptoplasty. Animals allowed to feed on algal prey (Vaucheria litorea C. Agardh) for 7 d or greater retained stable plastids resistant to cellular breakdown. Lipid analysis of algal and animal samples supports that these accumulating LDs may be of plastid origin, as the often algal-derived 20∶5 eicosapentaenoic acid was found in high abundance in the animal tissue. Subsequent culturing of animals in dark conditions revealed a reduced ability to establish permanent kleptoplasty in the absence of photosynthetic processes, coupled with increased mortality. Together, these data support an important role of photosynthetic lipid production in establishing and stabilizing this unique animal kleptoplasty.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gastropoda / genetics*
  • Gastropoda / metabolism
  • Lipid Droplets / metabolism
  • Lipids / genetics*
  • Photosynthesis / genetics
  • Plants / genetics
  • Plants / metabolism
  • Plastids / genetics*
  • Plastids / metabolism
  • Symbiosis / genetics*


  • Lipids

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation grant IOS-0726178 (; by a University of Maine - High End Instrumentation Research Grant (; by the University of Connecticut (; and by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft grants IRTG 1525-2 and EXC 1028 ( The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.