A Completely New Kind of Symbiotic Relationship

We've seen animals and plants, plants and fungi, animals and bacteria, all with symbiotic relationships that benefit both species. Some combinations even take that relationship to the cellular level. But now scientists have identified algae living in salamander cells through the life of the animal, which is the first time a photosynthetic plant has been found in the cells of a vertebrate.

As a collaborative research team from the American Museum of Natural History and Gettysburg College revealed, the green alga Oophila amblystomatis makes its home inside of cells located across the body of the spotted salamander Ambystoma maculatum. The salamander doesn’t appear to be negatively affected by its microbial roommates, and in fact the amphibian may even be benefitting from this arrangement. The normally photosynthetic green algae, on the other hand, are completely stressed out, forced rely on an alternative means of energy production.

The finding is so strange and so unexpected that the scientists involved in the study aren’t sure why this relationship evolved in the first place, or how each creature might be benefitting.

The algae was spotted before in the eggs of the salamander, which benefits both, but now it appears that the algae stay with the animal into adulthood. As far as we know now, the relationship is either benign or one-sided, which opens up more questions to be studied. Read about this new discovery at Gizmodo.

(Image credit: OpenCage)


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