Scientists discover the first organism with chlorophyll genes that do not photosynthesize



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PICTURE

PICTURE: Corallicolides are present in 70% of the world's corals.
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Credit: Patrick Keeling Lab, UBC.

For the first time, scientists have discovered an organism capable of producing chlorophyll but not participating in photosynthesis.

This particular organism is nicknamed 'corallicolide & # 39; because it is found in 70% of the world's corals and can provide insights on how to protect coral reefs in the future.

"He is the second most abundant coral co-inhabitant on the planet and has not been seen so far," says Patrick Keeling, a botanist and senior scientist at the University of British Columbia, who oversaw the study published in Nature. "This organism raises completely new biochemical questions, it looks like a parasite and it's certainly not photosynthetic, but it still produces chlorophyll."

Chlorophyll is the green pigment found in plants and algae that allows them to absorb the sun's energy during photosynthesis.

"Having chlorophyll without photosynthesis is actually very dangerous because chlorophyll is very effective at capturing energy, but without photosynthesis, releasing energy slowly, it's like living with a bomb in your cells, "says Keeling.

Corallicolides live in the gastric cavity of a wide range of corals responsible for the construction of reefs, as well as black coral, baleen corals, mushroom corals and anemones. They form an apicomplex, being part of a large group of parasites with a cell compartment called plastid, which is part of the cells of the plant and the alga where photosynthesis occurs. The most famous apicomplex is the parasite responsible for malaria.

More than ten years ago, photosynthetic algae related to apicomplexans were discovered in healthy corals, indicating that they might have evolved from benign photosynthetic organisms attached to corals before becoming parasites that we know today.

Ecological data have shown that coral reefs contain several apicomplexes, but corallicolides, the most common, have not been studied so far. The body has revealed a new puzzle: not only does it have a plastid, but it contains the four plastid genes used in chlorophyll production.

"It's a headache," said Waldan Kwong, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia and lead author of the study. "We do not know why these organisms retain these photosynthetic genes.There is a new biology going on here, something we have never seen before."

The researchers hope that further research on corallicolids will help better understand and better preserve coral habitats.

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