C V Mujer, D L Andrews, J R Manhart, S K Pierce, and M E Rumpho Department of Horticultural Sciences, Texas A & M University, College Station 77843, USA. [image: Small right arrow pointing to:] This article has been cited by http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC37991/citedby/ other articles in PMC.
The marine slug Elysia chlorotica (Gould) forms an intracellular symbiosis with photosynthetically active chloroplasts from the chromophytic alga Vaucheria litorea (C. Agardh). This symbiotic association was characterized over a period of 8 months during which E. chlorotica was deprived of V. litorea but provided with light and CO2. The fine structure of the symbiotic chloroplasts remained intact in E. chlorotica even after 8 months of starvation as revealed by electron microscopy. Southern blot analysis of total DNA from E. chlorotica indicated that algal genes, i.e., rbcL, rbcS, psaB, psbA, and 16S rRNA are present in the animal. These genes are typically localized to the plastid genome in higher plants and algae except rbcS, which is nuclear-encoded in higher plants and green (chlorophyll a/b) algae. Our analysis suggests, however, that similar to the few other chromophytes (chlorophyll a/c) examined, rbcS is chloroplast encoded in V. litorea. Levels of psbA transcripts remained constant in E. chlorotica starved for 2 and 3 months and then gradually declined over the next 5 months corresponding with senescence of the animal in culture and in nature. The RNA synthesis inhibitor 6-methylpurine reduced the accumulation of psbA transcripts confirming active transcription. In contrast to psbA, levels of 16S rRNA transcripts remained constant throughout the starvation period. The levels of the photosystem II proteins, D1 and CP43, were high at 2 and 4 months of starvation and remained constant at a lower steady-state level after 6 months. In contrast, D2 protein levels, although high at 2 and 4 months, were very low at all other periods of starvation. At 8 months, de novo synthesis of several thylakoid membrane-enriched proteins, including D1, still occurred. To our knowledge, these results represent the first molecular evidence for active transcription and translation of algal chloroplast genes in an animal host and are discussed in relation to the endosymbiotic theory of eukaryote origins.