Monday, June 11, 2007
Kleptoplasty is a wonderful term. It is used to describe the behavior of a group of organisms that are able to ingest algal cells and degrade the cells, but not the chloroplasts contained within the cells. The chloroplasts remain functional for some period of time during which the photosynthetic products generated by the sequestered chloroplasts are utilized by the new 'host'.
On the left is a figure from a paper by Gast et al. in the journal Enviornmental Microbiology from earlier this year showing a kleptoplastic dinoflagellate isolated from the Ross Sea in Antartica (the paper is in a free issue of the journal so go read the whole thing).
In addition to being a very interesting behavior from an ecological perspective, kleptoplasty is of evolutionary interest because the capacity to grow autotrophically by photosynthesis arose within dinoflagellates by the retention of chloroplasts from ingested algal cells. This ability appears to have arisen multiple times within dinoflagellates because not all contain chloroplasts from the same type of algal cell.