Retention of functional kleptoplasts in sea slugs
Solar-powered sea slugs (Sacoglossa: Gastropoda) have long captured the attention of laymen and scientists alike due to their remarkable ability to steal functional chloroplasts from their algal food, enslaving them to withstand long starvation periods. Recently, a wealth of data has shed insight into this remarkable relationship; however, the cellular mechanisms governing this process are still completely unknown. This study explores these mechanisms, providing insight into the chloroplast retention and delayed digestion, occurring within the slug’s digestive gland. We examine the relationships between functional chloroplast and lysosome abundances during starvation, in live material, for the long-term retaining species Elysia timida, the ambiguous long/short-term retaining Elysia viridis, and the short-term retaining Thuridilla hopei, to elucidate digestive differences that contribute to the development of functional kleptoplasty. Functional chloroplast and lysosome abundance are measured using chlorophyll a autofluorescence and the pH-dependent stain acridine orange. In each species, the number of chloroplasts and lysosomes is indirectly proportional, with the plastid density decreasing when starvation begins. We also present a new FIJI/Image J Plugin, the 3D—Accounting and Measuring Plugin, 3D-AMP, which enables the reliable analysis of large image sets.