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For sugar, tiny thieves kept algae captive

Microscopic animals held algae hostage and stole their genes for energy production, thereby evolving into a new and more powerful species many millions of years ago.

The results, published today in Nature, reveal a “missing link” in evolution because the tiny animal thieves (protozoa) couldn’t completely hide all evidence of the captive algae, and have been effectively frozen in time and caught in the act by genetic sequencing.

The protozoa captured genes for photosynthesis—the process of harnessing light to produce energy that’s used by all plants and algae on earth—so the study also provides insight into the origin and repurposing of these genes and may be useful in algae biofuel production.

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