Chloroplasts & Zeus’s Thunderbolt

Chloroplasts have been discovered to be fierce transformers, warriors. Yes, like Bumble Bee and Optimus Prime.

Unless you had an unorthodox elementary education in science, you learned about the innocent chloroplast. To refresh your memory, chloroplasts are organelles of plant cells and conduct photosynthesis for the plant.

In their everyday life, chloroplasts are a cornerstone for the sublime and symbiotic cycle of turning carbon dioxide into nutrient for the plant and excreting life-giving oxygen as their waste product.

Stop the press! The innocent chloroplasts you studied in elementary school can transform into veritable monsters you would not want to engage in combat.

How did we figure out the chloroplast is an intrepid soldier? Plant pathologist Tolga Bozkurt of Imperial College London and colleagues infected a tobacco relative with the Irish potato famine pathogen, a fungus-like microbe.

Fungi infections are bad news for any organism. Invading fungi are tenacious guerilla warriors.

Bozkurt and team hypothesized that a protein called CHloroplast Unusual Positioning 1, or CHUP1, call the chloroplasts to action for defense. Rather like calling for the SWAT (Specialized Weapons and Tactics) Team – ordinary police transformed into an organized, tactical, weaponized force.

When the team silenced the gene for CHUP1, chloroplasts did not respond to an infection, they just kept doing their photosynthesis thing.

When the gene is active, and an invasion occurs, chloroplasts are notified by CHUP1  through a cascade of molecular transmissions. Chloroplasts then shut off their photosynthesis and become a SWAT Team to hunt down and kill the invading bacteria.

They grow tentacle-like projections called stromules. CHUP1 then sends these chloroplast SWAT Teams to the infection site. There, the chloroplast tactical units clasp the microbe’s invading finger-like appendages and release toxic photosynthesis by-products into the appendages. They launch biological warfare on the invading forces.

Chloroplasts also appear to engage in hand to hand combat by squeezing the invading appendages until they collapse, helping to counteract the infection. These are some determined and deadly dudes.

Now, back up a paragraph… “they grow tentacle-like projections” and “release toxic photosynthesis by-products”! They transform, they weaponize!

Is it really so far-fetched to have beings who would transform, morph from one being to another? And/or have to ability to add biological weaponry for the purposes of self-defense?

Let’s think about that.

According to mythology, Cyclops crafted for Zeus an endless supply of lightning bolts. These bolts were effective against other divine beings, the Earth, and Sky.

Is Zeus’s lightning bolt a far leap from what the humble chloroplast is able to accomplish in growing tentacles and spewing poison when threatened?

Is there some fact mixed into the lore of Zeus?

Knowing now what we understand about the humble chloroplast’s ability to grow weaponry and transform into a vicious, effective warrior, is it such a far leap? Maybe, maybe not.

I postulate there is a chance advanced general knowledge, and individuals with preternatural abilities existed millennia ago and were smudged out during the Dark Ages. I postulate there exists a possibility super-talented beings and/or people were methodically eliminated out of ignorance imposed on humans by medieval institutions.

If the common chloroplast can morph into an effective and target-specific assassin, is it possible beings and/or people existed who had those capabilities? Did lore of preternatural beings and people evolve from the telling of long ago tamped out abilities, beings?

Something to ponder over Tuesday Tacos or Wednesday Wasabi.

For the sake of fun speculation, let us take this another way-if you’ll come along for the ride.

Humans and other animals are known to have a cascade of reactions triggered by fear. We learned about this in high school science class as the Fight-or-Flight Response.

I assure you, there is not a quiz at the end of this blog, even though I may be bringing you back to those bygone science classes.

Fight-or-Flight Response is a cascade of hormone releases and physiologic changes stimulated by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland to release ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone), epinephrine and cortisol.

These physiologic changes result in the body having an immediate increase in physical performance during the fight-or-flight response.

This cascade, on a basic level, causes:

  • Increased blood flow to the muscles activated by diverting blood flow from other parts of the body.
  • Increased blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugars, and fats in order to supply the body with extra energy.
  • The blood clotting function of the body speeds up in order to prevent excessive blood loss in the event of an injury sustained during the response
  • Increased muscle tension in order to provide the body with extra speed and strength.

If our humble chloroplasts can morph into Tactical Weaponized warriors with a cascade of signals, is it such a far leap that humans have at one time been able to do so as well?

Are the legends of Werewolves left over vestiges from when the body could be transformed into a self-weaponized warrior in response to a threat, much like the chloroplast?

I had spoken in my previous blog of the current ease of gene-editing through CRISPR-Cas9 technology. The humble chloroplast is transformed into an effective, deadly warrior through its self-perpetuated protein activation of the CHUP1 gene, letting us witness genetics effectively altering the abilities and actions of living organelles.

More thoughts to ponder as we endeavor to look hypothetically at Mythological Creatures through the lens of science.

If nothing else, it is fun to think about. Let me know if you have even the tiniest “what if” lurking in your ponderings after reading this.

I have included a link at the end of this blog to a video from Science News depicting our warrior chloroplasts in action.

I would love to hear your thoughts in response to this blog, or via direct email at

You can also find me on Twitter at @anconadanielle

Video Clip of Chloroplasts in Action

Links to resources for this blog:


    1. Thank you, Rowena! I am very glad you enjoyed the blog!

      I think that you have a stellar idea in making chloroplast combat a sport! I shall pass it on to the powers that be

  1. That’s amazing! This makes the mutating abominations of many scifi/fantasy/horror works seem to not be as far-fetched as they appear to be on the surface! Thanks for the article!

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