October 21, 2007

Mad Scientist Dreams: Chloroplasts in Animal Cells

Posted in Cell Biology, Mad Scientist at 8:07 am by D. Borst

So animals cells need the universal energy currency ATP just like plant cells. We animals get our ATP from the catabolic processing of carbohydrates and fats. Which is really, really cool, as I will go over in another post. Plants, as every 3rd grader learns, use chloroplasts to generate high energy electrons (in the form of NADPH) which are then used to make ATP through oxidative phosphorlation. But for the first episode of Mad Scientist’s Question Period, what would happen if you were to insert chloroplasts into an animal cell, or even just a eucaryote that normally doesn’t contain them? Would the cell be able to attain the ATP generated by the chloroplasts? Chloroplasts, like mitochondria have transferred many of the genes for their machinery to the host genome, but even in the absence of this information the chloroplast should be able to last for a while. Does this sort of transgenic cell work? Furthermore, would it be possible to insert the genes for chloroplasts into the genome of a mouse or a nematode and get a photosynthetic animal?

I am trying to approach the issue of modularity in genetics and cell biology. Some aspects of cellular life appear to be fairly modular–they can be mixed and matched between organisms with relative ease, adding features without disrupting the symmetry of the pattern. In my mind, lateral gene transfer in prokaryotes is a prime example of this.

For example, the genes of an ABC transporter that confers drug resistance can be transferred from one prokaryote to the next, making the spread of drug resistance much faster than it would be if microbes followed a strictly hereditary system of evolution. But the point is, the gene for the transporter protein can be transferred to a new type of bacteria through lateral transfer, and the protein can be expressed and implanted in the membrane, where it will serve its function without necessarily gumming up the rest of the organisms works.

Now the chloroplast is a much larger and more complex possible “module” than a single Transporter Protein, and multicellular eucaryotic cells are much more complex than prokaryotic cells. It is very likely that this wouldn’t work at all. But it sounds to me like a question for science.

Any papers describing an attempt at such a crazy task would be greatly appreciated.




  1. mp said,

    Personally, I would love to be a photosynthesizing human, and I believe that this could be very important research for the future of humanity…

    • esdan basha said,

      hello sir,

      i believe we can do it in future…

      we r doing many things that are not possible…

  2. Ashwai Kr. Saini said,

    today i came to know that artificial chloroplast is discovered so within a short time it will be intreduse to animal cells or there is an another option that we may cultivate green algae on the apidermis of an animal symbioticly

    • ram prasad said,

      sir we can introduce the chloroblast organ in animal means we can synthesis our food by own know we should try this sir even in star fish someone has introduced chloroblast it was surviving by that sir so we can try it sir

      • esdan basha said,

        hello sir,

        i believe we can do it in future…

        we r doing many things that are not possible…

  3. D. Borst said,

    I think it would really be cool to be able to “eat” via sunbathing. But then again, I really like food.

    @Ashwai do you have a journal article about that? I’d love to take a look a it.

    • Seirra Wilson said,

      Ok. It would be gentetically impossible for any human to survive this way. Eventhough, the chloroplast does make energy it wouldnt work for us because we do not have a large enough surface area to make enough food to suport life. There is a reason that plants have flat leaves, and thats so more chloroplast will be working.

      • Em said,

        Ah, but even a little kick would be helpful. For argument, assume photosynthetic humans could produce 1% to 2% of their energy needs with sunlight. Even at that low amount – still needing to consume outside nutrition of course – they are more energy efficient than the average human. A real question is whether or not this would have an impact on, say, glucose levels and the amount of necessary available space in a given cell. No one wants their cells exploding.

        I would sign up for this experiment though.

  4. Sean Carnegie said,

    I would like to do a science project on this subject. I am entering a Science fair that pairs up a student with a professor to act as a mentor, and my idea was an animal that would produce its own food, so that maybe we humans could avoid going hungry via food shortage. I’ll let you know what happens.

  5. shay said,

    i think that was the coolest article i’ve ever read in my entire life. who wrote this is a genious! you are my idol! I LLLLLUUUUUVVVVV YYYYYOOOOOOUUUUU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Luv shay ross

  6. shay said,

    i think that was the coolest article i’ve ever read in my entire life. who wrote this is a genious! you are my idol!

    Luv shay ross

  7. Dr A H said,

    I acknowledge that the addition of chloroplasts to the epidermis would be a neat solution to cell lysis; however would the products of photosynthesis, especially large molecular weight molecules, then have to undergo a separate transportation procedure before true symbiosis could occur?

    PS I Love you so much too. This is the greatest article I’ve ever read. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    • Kael said,

      The only products of photosynthesis are glucose, the source of energy, and oxygen, which is used in the cell anyway. All waste product from the process is actually highly beneficial to the workings of the cell! XD

  8. Anachoret said,

    Thats a great idea!
    I think there are 2 major points to think about for doing a functional approach:

    1. Sunbathing instead of eating is no solution cause we should not forget that the food does is not only essential for gaining energy (ATP) . You have a running metabolism in your body, so far in every cell. Means that every cell eat & shit ;) So, if you insert a chloroplast in a eukaryotic cell, there is on one side no need of sugars and fat but: you need very many substances to maintain a functional metabolism like Mg, Fe, Cu, Ca, Vitamins and many others. You lost this substances every time you visit your toilet so you have to eat – in every case. The advantage would be to eat only a “multi vitamin/element” pill during the week and enjoy a very delicious and expensive meal at the weekend.

    2. I think its necessary to figure out what the chloroplast produces and what it needs from the surrounding cell/nucleus to survive. After you figured out the needs (mainly protein i think) you should subtract it from the plant nucleus transcriptom and figure out the responsible genes. Clone them into vectors and transform mammalian cells. If you gain stabile cell lines you could subsequently start to introduce the chloroplast and see if it works.

    3. Are there known complications regarding an higher amount of ATP in the cell? Thats a hint pointing out that the original mammalian cell funktions perfect with ATP from mitochondria. So a second approch would be to figure out the netto ATP output of mitochondria and chloroplast and compare it. If it is nearly the same – deletion of mitochondria in mammalian cell and introduction of chloroplast would be the most elegant way to bring this idea to life. It would be interesting if a chloroplast could do the work of the mitochondria. (note: i did´nt thought about other essential output of mitochondria)

    If this works – you will get a nobel price, sure! ;)

  9. Rajendra said,

    Dear All,

    The subject discussed here can be achieved with RELATIVE ease. I have been thinking about this subject since about 10 years. I have almost drawn out an experimental approach with which photosynthetic animal can be made. Further, not only such an animal can be made, but such an animal can be forced to retain and pass on chloroplasts to subsequent generations. As I want the details to be kept secret till the project is executed, I am not able to provide more details. In a month or so I will start generating reagents in this regard. However, it will be a few years before such an animal is made. None of these is a joke.

    On a lighter vein, we can also make animals with leucoplasts so that animals no longer need to be green.


    • esdan basha said,

      how was your project going sir,,,

      all the very best..

    • Anachoret said,

      May i ask if you made any progress during the last 3 years? If you have published something about this topic i would love to read it!

    • mustafa said,

      i am a student and very much interested in biochem &medical………could i have some info.just some crest..i would love to personaly do some research and show it to my profeser

    • Meir Simchah said,

      I’ve been wondering about this for years, so on a fluke a punched it into google and found this great post. Have you published on this? I’d love to hear results! I was also wondering about the green skin. Optimal would be using a black dye to absorb more light… and why stop with the visible spectrum, right? But I don’t know any of the chemistry or physics involved…

  10. Mike said,

    Seems like insertion of a chloroplast into a freshly formed zygote would take care of it, granted that the technique worked and that this didn’t make animals that grew roots. By inserting into a zygote, especially if you can set up the appropriate triggers and have the chloroplast divide when the cell does, you eliminate the need to ever do it again with a given germ line… in theory, the gametes will have them too.

    Sign my future grandkids up after we get it to work on monkeys.

  11. zxc28 said,

    That sounds great! I was searching for an article about this for awhile.

    It would be a close solution to world hunger and malnutrition. People would have to be out in the sun.
    And carbon emissions might even be negative if every animal takes in CO2.

    But, they are some risky implications if we were going to put this into human or any other complicated animal anatomy.

    (1) Chloroplasts main job is to produce glucose. What if we risk having cells that produce more glucose than it can process. Our blood would then be filled with it, and diabetes could kick in.

    (2) How will carbon dioxide enter into these cells? Red blood cells don’t hold onto CO2, do they?

    (3) How will our body contain these chloroplasts? Our skin, sure, is the best area for “sun-eating”, but our epidermis is already dead by the time it reaches the outer level.

    • OT3P_Wolf said,

      We would need leaf-like structures that can expand and contract via hydraulic pressure in spongy tissue, that way they can be open when we need it and closed when we don’t, or when they get in the way. We can also copy the genes for our lymphatic system to make a secondary one to transport CO2. Exercise can deal with the glucose problem. We can also transfer additional plant genes to manufacture the majority of our complex nutrients. We could eliminate the majority of our large intestine, because it would waste resources. Then we can split the stomach into two stomachs, one for organic breakdown filled with roots, soil, and decomposing organic matter, and one for regular digestion. We could also replace melanin with the chloroplasts to deal with the problem of not being able to have living cells on our skin surface and create a new membrane underneath the skin layers to deal with radiation. It would be derived from: http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2007/05/23/science-fungi-radiation.html There, all issues solved.

      • Concerned Biologist said,

        Yet you are forgetting how can our organs and tissues handle such sharp spikes in Carbon Dioxide. Blood acidity is a major factor and unless radical changes in human biology is undertaken it is highly unlikely we can make use of Chloroplasts.

  12. esdan basha said,

    we r doin every thing for food and energy only.
    think when we r grtting it by natural resources… possibly no one will die with hungry.
    specially in india over 40% people r not getting food in villages….

    i personally feel government should encourage this kind of projects…
    even if we fail nothing will happen, a few lifes of us will be wasted and some money..

    but if we succeeeded ……………………………..

  13. Jacob said,

    Yo i just want to say, i am only a 9th grader in Biology but when we study plant and animal cells, i thought to myslef “wow, if i could grow to be a genetic scientist, and put chloroplast in a human cell (and i thought of the possiablities) it would be sweet!” But when i went online to find out if anyone else had thought of this and found out someone did, well that really put a damper on my dreams :(

  14. Alice said,

    I am a 10th grader who also had the same idea and am now very disapointed. These are all really good comments and I have enjoyed reading this. I can’t wait to see where this will go. :)

  15. Mike Walsh said,

    Don’t get down on the idea just because other people have thought of it.

    There’s still implementation that needs to happen.

  16. Arham said,

    may the dream come true!!!zology rocks!!

  17. Naveen kumar said,

    Dear friend ,
    everyone expecting to produce their own food. I am also thinking about this from few years. The skin is main functional area for this process, because other than this can’t get energy by directly( solar energy).

    if following factors or problems are corrected then it may possible, they are……………

    1) regulation of carbon dioxide from cell to chloroplast
    2) Utilization of oxygen are available in chloroplast by every animal cell for respiration , Because of this animals don’t have the use of lungs.
    if you give your email address then i will reply you personally

    your’ friend,

    • Concerned Biologist said,

      You forget the effect of blood acidity through the introduction of ecessive Carbon Dioxide. Unless the fundemental biology of humans or any animal for that matter is changed radically I cannot see this being feasible way of producing ATP, even if it were to be a co-existing system alongside natural animalistic respiratory system.

      • Naveen Kumar said,

        if we know about developmental pattern of Euglena, then we will get a simple natural background of a chloroplast in a animal cell. Euglena transformed the chloroplast in such a way that it can be synthesis the food material for their energy source.
        please reply me
        i want to know is it applies for this condition

  18. Arham said,

    i am maiking my project on this topic ….i respect the inquistive minds behind this research…. anyways hope for more information

    • iuera said,

      Dear Arham,
      how did your project go? I’ve been thinking about this subject ever since high school.

  19. njtasnova said,

    i really would love to work on inserting chloroplast in human body. i don’t know what will be the consequence, but i belive one thing impossible means i am possible. i want to know more in this regard. more informative articles are needed.

  20. NN said,

    I have thought about this before and like the idea of going green! But animals move around and therefore require a lot more energy than plants, which are stationary. So I’m not sure if chloroplasts would provide enough energy to fulfill our energy requirements. Interesting ideas though.

  21. NiñoVerde said,

    Brain is the main glucose dependent organ in our body, consuming almost 210 gr per day (20 – 25% of our total metabolism). Imagine a photosyntetic hair that provides glucose almost directly to the brain when your head is exposed to sunlight. I like the idea of a green hair.

  22. Concerned Biologist said,

    The damning and unpredictable results of such experimentation is not worth the risk. Ethically speaking this would go beyond natural human physiology.

    However it would be intriguing if such experiment was to be done on lesser mammals such as rats or mice. Scientifically though, it seems like a leap to far however as the physiology of Kingdom of Animalia including the biochemistry between cells would be to far fetched to include such a process.

  23. John said,

    This would be just a supplementary energy source for humans, it can’t solve hunger in poor countries. It would’t make your blood sugar rise to an unhealthy level, because it would only produce small amounts of glucose.
    It would be a huge mistake to start experimenting on the most complex biological creatures: humans. Some of you just can’t understand this(my conclusion made from the above comments).

  24. Pelerojo said,

    This is a great sci-fi idea but there are some problems. Pease say if I’m wrong but the outer layer of skin, the one that would get the most sun, is composed of dead cells. The dead cells would not be able to produce the energy from the sun. Therefor it wouldn’t be possible to replace chloroplasts with food.

  25. Carl Steuch said,

    already happening in nature. even with the risk for diabetes, there’s a lot to gain from this. the chloroplast would produce oxygen as well as sugar. during winter we might still need food because of the sun, but we would’nt have to eat half the amount of food we do today. we would’nt need to consume sugar most of the year, and the rest of the the time our diet would be protein and mineral based. world hunger solved. plus it would be really awesome to be able to stay under water in ages with your personal oxygen garden. uh, uh, and life in space would be easier too!!! imagine the advantage of that! no need for the things that would take up half the space(oxygen/food garden, oxygen tank etc.)!! all you would need to bring is lifestock or anything with a large amount of proteins and minerals.

    btw check out this slug!!


  26. Ramnaresh Chandrapuriya said,

    I am make all project. Which organism use as host and which one use as chloroplast doner. All methodology and apporech devloped. Start our work in 2011.
    Any one intrasted please mail me
    rams19ch@gmail. Com

  27. Lokesh Sharma said,

    I am to learn more about this thesis because if will achieve this all social problems will end.
    Respected scientists.,
    I am glad you help me in this work. I want to be a scientist for this world

  28. Fiona The said,

    What do you think will happen if you successfully transplanted chloroplasts into an animal cell? 1. Be able to photosynthesis 2. Become green in colour 3. Grow more quickly 4. Have a regular shape

  29. SJ said,

    Why can’t chloroplast be on plants that don’t produce chlorophyll. I think we can do it on humans by entering DNA of plants with ours.

  30. Rajnetha said,

    Everything is possible with our workout…… before that we should come ahead from reading different pathways to making some pathways for the sunbathing
    I’m very enthusiastic to work on this project…..

  31. Bonnie said,

    Skype has opened its online-structured buyer beta on the entire world,
    soon after launching it generally in the United states and U.K.
    previously this month. Skype for Online also now facilitates Chromebook and Linux for instant messaging interaction (no video and
    voice however, those require a plug-in set up).

    The increase of the beta provides assist for a longer listing of dialects to assist bolster that worldwide user friendliness

  32. Souhardya said,

    I too think of this matter and its consequence bt is there any sort of experiment going on at present which would help this theory..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: