Active Host Response to Algal Symbionts in the Sea Slug Elysia chlorotica

Mol Biol Evol. 2018 Jul 1;35(7):1706-1711. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msy061.


Sacoglossan sea slugs offer fascinating systems to study the onset and persistence of algal-plastid symbioses. Elysia chlorotica is particularly noteworthy because it can survive for months, relying solely on energy produced by ingested plastids of the stramenopile alga Vaucheria litorea that are sequestered in cells lining its digestive diverticula. How this animal can maintain the actively photosynthesizing organelles without replenishment of proteins from the lost algal nucleus remains unknown. Here, we used RNA-Seq analysis to test the idea that plastid sequestration leaves a significant signature on host gene expression during E. chlorotica development. Our results support this hypothesis and show that upon exposure to and ingestion of V. litorea plastids, genes involved in microbe-associated molecular patterns and oxidative stress-response mechanisms are significantly up-regulated. Interestingly, our results with E. chlorotica mirror those found with corals that maintain dinoflagellates as intact cells in symbiosomes, suggesting parallels between these animal-algal symbiotic interactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Down-Regulation
  • Mollusca / metabolism*
  • Mollusca / microbiology*
  • Stramenopiles / physiology*
  • Symbiosis*
  • Up-Regulation