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First Evidence That Some Insects May Rely On Photosynthesis 107

Posted by samzenpus
from the here-comes-the-sun dept.
tedlistens writes "The idea that aphids may use photosynthesis, as plants do, is based on the recent finding that the bugs are able to synthesize pigments called carotenoids. These pigments are common and necessary for many animals (for non-photosynthesis uses, like maintaining a healthy immune system), but the animal must consume them from outside sources. So far, only plants, algae, fungi, and bacteria are known to be able to synthesize carotenoids themselves, and, in all of those organisms, carotenoids are a key part of photosynthesis. While the co-author of the study, published in Nature's open-access journal Scientific Reports, cautions that more research is needed before we can determine if aphids are photosynthesizing like non-animals, it still could be one of the more remarkable findings in biology in recent memory, and may hold promise for helping address humanity's food crisis."
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First Evidence That Some Insects May Rely On Photosynthesis

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 20, 2012 @02:02AM (#41051425)

    It goes from "correlation equals causation" to " promise for helping address humanity's food crisis" in one paragraph!

  • by c0lo (1497653) on Monday August 20, 2012 @02:08AM (#41051449)
    TFS

    and may hold promise for helping address humanity's food crisis

    I imagine the ultimate solution would be to literally transform part of the human population into vegetables... able to absorb CO2, feed themselves in the Sun light and be happy no matter what the govts do to exploit them (+ be actually grateful for being pissed on).
    Maybe, in the first stage, FauxNews can help?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by fustakrakich (1673220)

      I imagine the ultimate solution would be to literally transform part of the human population into vegetables...

      Are you saying we should spike the water supply with LSD?

    • Don't forget the other F-word, F*book. Then we'll have hordes of literal couch potatoes.

      A seriously evil application of this would be to design herds of cows that don't need to eat grass.

      • Then teach them to want to be eaten, then English so they can express exactly that and then we are all set. :)

    • by roman_mir (125474)

      I imagine the ultimate solution would be to literally transform part of the human population into vegetables

      This would be exciting for me, as a vegetarian I fully support this motion to transform the rest of the population into carrots.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        This would be exciting for me, as a vegetarian I fully support this motion to transform the rest of the population into carrots.

        Read on a little further: "and be happy no matter what the govts do to exploit them (+ be actually grateful for being pissed on)."

        The motion is for government to turn people to vegetables so it's easier to rule over them. The government, not you (or are you implying you're a wannabe tyrant), decide who to turn.

        Governments will probably turn vegetarians first, since they're picky eaters (you're suppose to eat whatever government gives you!)

        So you'll be turned into a vegetable first, and not one for human con

    • by iter8 (742854)
      Gives a whole new meaning to Soylent Green.
    • by Ainu (135288)

      I see green people! EVERYWHERE!

    • > and may hold promise for helping address humanity's food crisis

      It's aphids! Soylent green is made out of aphids!

    • by Agent0013 (828350)

      TFS

      and may hold promise for helping address humanity's food crisis

      I imagine the ultimate solution would be to literally transform part of the human population into vegetables... able to absorb CO2, feed themselves in the Sun light and be happy no matter what the govts do to exploit them (+ be actually grateful for being pissed on). Maybe, in the first stage, FauxNews can help?

      It sounds like a new version of Soylent Green. And they probably would be green too.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      I imagine the ultimate solution would be to literally transform part of the human population into vegetables...

      I really don't think we could cope with that many politicians.

  • What food crisis? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NalosLayor (958307) on Monday August 20, 2012 @02:08AM (#41051451)
    No, seriously. There is no food crisis. As a species we have a food distribution problem, and a food wastage problem and they're rather shocking at that, but we really have no issue with feeding the population of earth today without resorting to eating genetically modified photosynthetic aphids. Now, a long term lack of motor fuel, is a problem, but aphids don't really solve that either. Mind you, this is scientifically interesting, but there really is no need to tie every technically interesting scientific discovery to the end of the world. Believe it or not, some of us like science for science's own sake.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      No, seriously. There is no food crisis. As a species we have a food distribution problem, and a food wastage problem and they're rather shocking at that, but we really have no issue with feeding the population of earth today ...

      There are too many people now, and we have no control over our own global population growth. Arguing that there is currently no food crisis, but rather a distribution problem is specious.

      • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Monday August 20, 2012 @02:56AM (#41051677) Homepage Journal

        There are too many people now

        No, there's plenty of room [persquaremile.com] and we can feed them (to the extent that we don't put food into our gas tanks, anyhow).

        and we have no control over our own global population growth

        Education - it works every time it's tried. Parts of Europe are so 'successful' that their populations are shrinking. There are States that repress their people, but we'll get those dealt with one of these centuries.

        Arguing that there is currently no food crisis, but rather a distribution problem is specious.

        Or accurate, if you care to examine the data.

        • Re:What food crisis? (Score:5, Informative)

          by TimmyDee (713324) on Monday August 20, 2012 @07:43AM (#41052853) Homepage Journal

          I made that infographic you posted above (the one where you said there'd be plenty of room), and your claim isn't exactly true. You obviously didn't see my follow up infographic [persquaremile.com], showing that we'd all have to live lifestyles somewhat less resource intensive than the average Chinese person.

          Simply having enough space to cram people isn't everything.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        No, seriously. There is no food crisis. As a species we have a food distribution problem, and a food wastage problem and they're rather shocking at that, but we really have no issue with feeding the population of earth today ...

        There are too many people now, and we have no control over our own global population growth.

        Population growth is entirely in the developing world, where there is high infant and youth mortality. If you know your child will have only a 1 in 3 chance of surviving to adulthood, you have half a dozen babies just to make sure. This pattern has repeated itself all over the world: as mortality goes down, population growth slows down. Once you have 90+% child survival, you get two-ish child families that sustain, but do not grow, the population. The paradoxical fact of the matter is, when more babies surv

    • there really is no need to tie every technically interesting scientific discovery to the end of the world. Believe it or not, some of us like science for science's own sake.

      It's standard for writing non-fiction to tie your subject to something of wider importance. It's certainly done in scientific papers. Even people who like science for science's sake are interested in what the big picture may be. Very often, the big picture is totally different from the one that was expected, but it's still interesting.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      What lack of motor fuel. we really have not issue with motor fuel. As a species we have a foot distribution problem, an mussle wastage problem, and its rather shocking at that. We really have not problem with the population walking to work or working from home. People can live near where they work/the work can setup near where the workers live.

      Natural if its the existing way of life your trying to preserve in lets say North america then you might have a point. But since that seems to be having an adverce ef

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I get it, it's like the serious point made above, only stupid and ill-informed.

    • Re:What food crisis? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Troed (102527) on Monday August 20, 2012 @04:26AM (#41052021) Homepage Journal

      Exactly.

      "According to the World Resources Institute, global per capita food production has been increasing substantially for the past several decades."

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_security [wikipedia.org]

      • by pspahn (1175617)

        "According to the World Resources Institute, global per capita food production has been increasing substantially for the past several decades."

        Unfortunately, so has the average waist size.

        I don't think most of the "increased food production" is ending up on the right plates.

      • I did not follow your link, so I do not know if this was pointed out in it or not. In the 1960s, the per capita caloric intake of developing nations was around 300-600 calories a day. In the early 2000s that had risen so that the per capita caloric intake throughout the developing world was around 2500 calories a day. That means that there is not a "food crisis". That does not mean that there are not still hungry people in the world. It just means that we have the means to feed them, we just fail to do so.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by darkfeline (1890882)
      Not entirely true (though I do agree with you mostly, honest!). Distribution is costly (a basic logistical problem), both in terms of time, money, and quality of food, and in some cases plainly impossible for the near future (If you ever wondered why food is so expensive in e.g. ski lodges, this is (part of) the reason). On-site production will always trump improved distribution where possible. Yes, we do have a food distribution problem, but we also have a food production problem as well.
    • by biodata (1981610)
      This is not really true. If the first world we waste about a quarter of our food and in the developing world a similar proportion is lost to pests and diseases, but population is growing exponentially, so even if we stopped the waste, it wouldn't help us for long. We have previously increased food production to keep pace with population growth by a) irrigation b) fertilisers c) plant breeding d) destroying rainforest. a) is a problem because large parts of the world are running out of water, and consuming
    • by dasunt (249686)

      No, seriously. There is no food crisis. As a species we have a food distribution problem, and a food wastage problem and they're rather shocking at that, but we really have no issue with feeding the population of earth today without resorting to eating genetically modified photosynthetic aphids.

      Plus the logic is bad. We already have mechanisms for turning sunlight into food, they are called "plants". Why not eat high-protein plants instead of aphids in the first place?

    • by bcrowell (177657)

      No, seriously. There is no food crisis. As a species we have a food distribution problem, and a food wastage problem and they're rather shocking at that, but we really have no issue with feeding the population of earth today [...]

      This is a little misleading IMO.

      First off, you can't argue with the basic Malthusian issue. If population grows geometrically, at some point we are guaranteed to run out of food, if only because we reach the limits imposed by the laws of thermodynamics.

      And even supposing that the p

  • by fustakrakich (1673220) on Monday August 20, 2012 @02:10AM (#41051463) Journal

    Humanity's food crisis is a political problem, not a technical one.

    • by ApharmdB (572578)
      But it is a political problem that with an understanding of humanity (or a realistic/pessimistic opinion), one realizes humanity will never solve. So perhaps a technological, post-scarcity world created by technology is the only solution.
      • ...understanding of humanity....

        If you understand Pavlov and Skinner (ok, maybe a bit of Freud, Jung, and Reich), then you understand humanity. We're no different than anything else, just more complex.

    • by fa2k (881632)

      Humanity's food crisis is a political problem, not a technical one.

      Well, given great technology, almost any problem can be solved. If we had 20x the food we have now, it would be a lot easier to distribute it.

      • No, it doesn't require any great technology. It only requires a change in attitude. It only requires that we at least make a feeble effort to mitigate the corruption, that we waste less, that we make less war. We already have all the tech we need for this.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 20, 2012 @02:19AM (#41051511)

    Really the first? Vespa Orientalis has been shown to harvest sunlight for energy. Or does that not strictly count as photosnthesis?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vespa_orientalis

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 20, 2012 @02:24AM (#41051537)

    That's probably a type of photosynthesis - using sunlight to produce Vitamin D from cholesterol, which is a vital hormone that 80% of us are lacking.
    You know, sunlight's purpose is not to cause cancer and cholesterol is not there to clog your arteries, nature has a purpose for everything.

    • by c0lo (1497653) on Monday August 20, 2012 @02:38AM (#41051615)

      nature has a purpose for everything.

      Stop anthropomorphizing nature: it hates when you do it!

      • by wbr1 (2538558)
        I love that more people modded this insightful rather than funny.
        "He used a big word.. it must be insightful!"
        Dear fellow slahdotters, anthropomorphizing means giving something the characteristics of humans, when it is not human.

        The statement is funny because he say to stop doing that, then does it himself in the same sentence. By some that would be considered a form of irony.
        It was certainly intended as a joke. And the fact that the crowd here cannot see it, but feels confident in modding insightful

    • nature has a purpose for everything.

      Yes, well, not all "purposes", as you miscast them, are benign, and nature's implementation can be pretty darned faulty, because the underlying mechanism is basically a random process that selects for stuff that works -- not that is optimal. E(e)volution is full of dead branches, and useless, dangerous, or outright fatal mutations. Let's not get too hand-wavy about "nature's purpose."

  • Isn't this insect doing something like this coral symbiosis [wikipedia.org]?

    • Re:Coral Symbiosis (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Guppy (12314) on Monday August 20, 2012 @03:17AM (#41051755)

      Isn't this insect doing something like this coral symbiosis [wikipedia.org]?

      Before I popped open the article, I figured it was going to be another one of those symbiont cases, or at the most one of those kleptoplasty cases (where the organism integrates and uses ingested chloroplasts). Turns out it's much more interesting -- the aphid apparently has it's own carotenoid synthesis pathways, and (it is hypothesized) can use it to reduce NAD+ for the purposes of pumping protons to drive ATP synthesis.

      It's not a full photosynthesis pathway like plants have. They won't be able to get as much energy, nor can they fix CO2 to make organic substrates. But it is their own endogenous system that's at work (although parts of that system may have been obtained through horizontal gene transfer).

  • Do we really have to look for animals that photosynthesize? Why not stick with plants?

    • by Dwedit (232252)

      I think this is more about taking genes from some animal that can photosynthesize, and putting them into another animal. Genetic engineering.
      Of course, I'm not one of those mad scientists that do this kind of thing.

  • Been bonking the cabbage, eh?

  • It's only fair, since some plants have evolved the ability to eat the way we do. There's enough sunlight and carbon dioxide for everybody! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnivorous_plant [wikipedia.org] Richard
  • Food crisis? (Score:3, Informative)

    by cripkd (709136) on Monday August 20, 2012 @03:35AM (#41051833) Homepage
    Why can't something be interesting and considered a breakthrough in any field of science and research still be conducted without it having to solve any type of crisis?
    Especially when the connection to that crisis is made artificially in a summary, just to throw some glitter on a piece of scientific news?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Because science has become political. Not because the scientist wanted it, but because it is perceived (probably correctly) that this will improve your career chances.

      Society, through their governments, is thinking that scientist should do useful science. Hence, we need to write paragraphs into our grant proposal hypothesizing how our work will help society. Of course, we have absolutely no idea whether it will, but we need to convince some government official that it will. The trouble is, this way of writi

  • So, there will be a fight for becoming taller and broader, space on land will become so important that you have to almost root yourself there?
  • A lot of slashdotters love to rubbish media coverage of science. Well here's one of many examples where the news story is more balanced and revealing than the paper. No mention of feeding the world etc
    From Nature's news story [nature.com] about this paper:
    "When the researchers measured the aphids’ levels of ATP — the ‘currency’ of energy transfer in all living things — the results were striking. Green aphids, which contain high levels of carotenoids, make significantly more ATP than do whit

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      Convincing, but that could also be caused by temperature increase. I wonder if they measured the body temeperature of the animals put in sunlight.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      A lot of slashdotters love to rubbish media coverage of science.

      That's because 99% of the time they get it 99% wrong.

  • When the Republicans find out there's a photovoltaic bug they are gonna be pissed! They'll spend tens of millions trying to prove there's a coal powered bug.
  • Photosynthesis as far as we know, produces sugar - the one thing that aphids find in such overwhelming abundance in their food (plant sap) that they have to excrete most of it. On the surface, at least, it would seem surprising if they were to produce their own suger by means of photosynthesis; this is possibly just the summary that overinterprets the findings of the article, is my guess.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Actually it produce ATP, which can then be used for quite any number of purposes, including making sugar.

  • unless they are served with fava beans and a nice chianti.
  • Flying seeming like boarding a flying bus is a good thing and a sign of progress.

    When things are new and undeveloped they seem unfamiliar and slightly scary; this makes them seem special. When they start seeming boring and banal that's a sign that the technology and process have matured to the point that it's no longer a big deal. It might seem a shame that flying has lost its "magic", but that's the price you pay for easy, safe air-travel.

  • Scientists have already discovered genes that allow animals to become bioluminescent [wikipedia.org]. Combine these genes with the photosynthesis genes in livestock and no one will ever be hungry again!

  • by DarthVain (724186) on Monday August 20, 2012 @11:42AM (#41055357)

    I believe John Scalzi already had this idea in his book Old Man's War wereby soldier bodies were built to include a bit of photosynthesis, making the bodies a lovely light green colour.

    There may have been other science fiction that describes this, but that is one that came to mind recently.

    • by mdielmann (514750)

      His isn't the first to suggest something similar. The one I read was about a symbiote between some creature vaguely human and an algae-like substance. I read this in the 80's, and the book was from the 60's or earlier, and titled "Green Man from Space" or something similar. Given that genetic engineering wasn't very well-known at the time, I think it counts as a valid precursor to the techniques described in "Old Man's War".

      • Re:Old Man's War (Score:4, Interesting)

        by bar-agent (698856) on Monday August 20, 2012 @08:40PM (#41062533)

        There was a novella called "The Green Leopard Plague" that goes into the idea of humans that photosynthesize humans in more detail.

        Other posters have pointed out that we don't have a food production problem; we have a food distribution problem. The novel points out the main advantage of wide-spread photosynthesis: no dictator would be able to hold his people hostage through their food supply. There would no longer be any benefit to screwing with normal food distribution if a person could meet their base metabolic needs by sitting outside.

        • by DarthVain (724186)

          True I agree that it is a food distrabution issue, however perhaps we could stop being such a huge impact on the enviroment if we didn't require so much food at least.

          In addition, while we might not have a food supply problem right now, fast forward 20, 50, 100 years and what will our popoulation be? Anyone looking into some bright ideas of how to feed that many people?

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