Insects Soak Up the Sun

A new study suggests that carotenoid-producing aphids may be the only animals capable of harnessing the energy of the sun in a process similar to plants.

Cristina Luiggi
Aug 21, 2012

Aphids are one of the most unique organisms in the animal kingdom. In addition to being among the most destructive pets, some aphid species are the only animals known to produce carotenoids--light absorbing pigments that form part of the photosynthetic machinery of plants, algae, and certain fungi.

Now, an international group of researchers led by entomologist Alain Robichon from the Sophia Institute in France, have proposed that carotenoid-producing aphids can actually use the pigment in a photosynthetic-like process to produce ATP--the cellular energy molecule.

But whether the insects can use the power of light to ultimately synthesize glucose and other compounds is far from clear, Yale University geneticist Nancy Moran, who was not involved in the study, told Nature. "Energy production seems to be the least of an aphid's problems--their diet is loaded with excessive sugar, most of which they cannot use," she said. However, the authors counter that...

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