Plants, such as trees and green algae, use sunlight to produce their own energy. This is done through photosynthesis, which is enabled by a substance called chlorophyll. Animals, on the other hand, must obtain their energy from food, which ultimately comes from plants.

Imagine if humans could gather all their energy from the sun like plants. It sounds amazing, but it’s not that simple. Humans have high energy needs, requiring 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day. A study by Professor Lindsay Turnbull of the University of Oxford found that if an adult human female’s skin had chlorophyll like a leaf, it would only produce 1% of her daily energy requirements. To live solely by photosynthesis, she would need to be much larger, possibly as big as a tennis court. This inefficiency is why humans and other Vertebrates cannot rely on photosynthesis as a significant energy source.

However, there is one vertebrate that has found a way to harness the power of the sun: the spotted salamander. This amphibian utilizes the photosynthesis process during its embryonic stage. The salamanders lay eggs in pools of water, and within hours, algae colonize the eggs. The algae feed on the waste material produced by the salamander embryos and in return, photosynthesis and release oxygen, which the embryos then breathe in. Studies have shown that embryos with more algae are more likely to survive and develop faster.

While the spotted salamander doesn’t utilize energy in the same way that you might be thinking (it’s not a green-skinned animal basking in the sun like the Pokémon Bulbasaur), it is still solar-powered during its embryonic stage. It’s intriguing to examine how this salamander managed to find this unique path.

By the way, did you know how chloroplast and mitochondria came to exist inside the cell? There’s this widely accepted theory called endosymbiosis. It suggests that chloroplasts and mitochondria were once free-living bacteria that were engulfed by ancestral eukaryotic cells. Over time, these engulfed bacteria formed a symbiotic relationship with the host cell, eventually becoming essential organelles within the cell. Now I wonder if this symbiotic relationship between the salamander embryo and the algae is sustained even when the salamander grows up, we might get to see what we wanted!


Check these for more information-

  • Explainer: why can’t humans photosynthesise?

  • A solar salamander – Nature

Photosynthetic algae have been found inside the cells of a vertebrate for the first time.



Alvee Alam

Dept of Genetic engineering and Biotechnology

Shahjalal University of Science and Technology

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