When I was in college, my botany lab instructor had a cartoon on her door about ways to save the world. I don’t remember the other nine, but “Teach your dog to photosynthesize” has stuck with me over the intervening decades. That may be unlikely (though think of the savings in kibble), but some other animals have figured it out.
The sea slug Elysia chlorotica, for one.
If your biology teacher told you that animals couldn’t photosynthesize, she was only almost right. It turns out a few can practice kleptoplasty, the art of stealing chloroplasts from plants and using them yourself. It’s easy, if you’re the right kind of sea slug: eat some algae, digest most it, stuff the chloroplasts into their own tubules, profit.
It gets weirder, though: unlike most other species that steal chloroplasts, these sea slugs are born with algal DNA that lets them take care of their chloroplasts. This podcast interviews some of the scientists involved, if you’re into listening to your science as well as reading it.
Our terrestrial ecosystem is complicated and varied enough that many of the things we think are true are really just mostly true. How much weirder will it be when we finally meet up with non-terrestrial life? Or will it be no weirder than what we’ve already found?