A new case of kleptoplasty in animals: Marine flatworms steal functional plastids from diatoms

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Science Advances  17 Jul 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 7, eaaw4337
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw4337


To date, sea slugs have been considered the only animals known to sequester functional algal plastids into their own cells, via a process called “kleptoplasty.” We report here, however, that endosymbionts in the marine flatworms Baicalellia solaris and Pogaina paranygulgus are isolated plastids stolen from diatoms. Ultrastructural data show that kleptoplasts are located within flatworm cells, while algal nuclei and other organelles are absent. Transcriptomic analysis and rbcL amplicons confirm the absence of algal nuclear mRNA and reveal that the plastids originate from different species of diatoms. Laboratory experiments demonstrated photosynthetic activity and short-term retention of kleptoplasts in starved worms. This lineage of flatworms represents the first known case of functional kleptoplasty involving diatoms and only the second known case of kleptoplasty across the entire tree of animals.

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