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Salamander cells harbor algae

For the first time, scientists identify algae living inside the cells of a vertebrate, but what are they doing there?

Hannah Waters
Due to their adaptive immune systems, it's been long assumed that vertebrates are unable to share cellular space with another organism in a mutualistic relationship. But within various tissues and cell types of embryonic spotted salamanders live smaller algal cells, which may somehow benefit the vertebrate, according to new linkurl:research;http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/03/29/1018259108 published today (April 4) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum, eggs with developing embryos. The algae in the yolk sacs is visible to the naked eye.
Image: Courtesy of Ryan Kerney
"It's really a tremendous finding... that gives us a new angle on algal symbiosis," said linkurl:Angela Douglas,;http://www.angeladouglaslab.com/ an insect physiologist at Cornell University who was not involved in this research. While there are many examples of invertebrates that harbor intracellular mutualists or pathogens, vertebrates were considered an exception, able to host parasites alone, she said. "This really doesn't make sense: how...
R. Kerney et al., "Intracellular invasion of green algae in a salamander host," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1018259108, 2011.





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