Your "solar-powered" sea slugs.

October 11, 1998
From: Amanda Lindsey

Dear Dr Bill Rudman:
My name is Amanda Lindsey and I am currently a junior in high school and am enthralled with science.  Science fair is coming around the corner and my topic and hypothesis will interest you. 
Topic: Can invertebrates undergo photosynthesis?
Hypothesis:  By injecting slugs with a chlorophyll solution, they shall meet all the necessary requirements to undergo photosynthesis and sustain life.
While searching on the internet for information on slugs and their anatomy, behavior, environment, etc., I stumbled upon your nudibranchs and their adaptation for ingesting a whole microscopic plant intact, allowing for them to have a symbiotic relationship and practically never feed themselves.  I wonder if this natural occurrence is similar to my "artificial" method of injection of chlorophyll.  Please
respond with your thoughts on my project.  Also, any information that you have on slugs, land slugs that is, would be greatly appreciated.  Some other web sites and research "helps" would also be received with warmth and gratitude.  Thanks for your time.
                                        Amanda Lindsey

Lindsey, A., 1998 (Oct 11) Your "solar-powered" sea slugs.. [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from

Dear Amanda,
Your question inspired me to put some more examples of "solar-powered" sea slugs on the Slug Forum. Have a look at the examples I have mentioned above on this page.

I'm afraid your proposed experiment is doomed to failure I would think. The process of photosynthesis involves a series of complicated chemical reactions. Chlorophyll is involved, at least in green plants. It is a molecule which traps light. For anything to then happen needs the combined activity of the other molecules and membranes that make up the chloroplast or plastid within the plant cell. Have a look at a text book on photosynthesis to see the wonderful series of chemical reactions that need to occur before the conversion of light to sugars and starches takes place.

That is why the sea slugs can only act like plants by either farming small plants in their bodies (as in the case of the nudibranchs with zooxanthellae), or by keeping the plastids, which are the little photosynthetic factories in plant cells alive, (in the case of the sacoglossans).

I'm sorry if this is not good news for your experiment but I hope it will give you some ideas.

Best wishes,
Bill Rudman

Rudman, W.B., 1998 (Oct 11). Comment on Your "solar-powered" sea slugs. by Amanda Lindsey. [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from

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