Humans Who Photosynthesize?

Tuke, Henry Scott (1858–1929) - 1904 - The sun worshipper (In the morning sun)From BBC Future:

The discovery that some animals have found ways to feed off the Sun’s energy has led to the intriguing idea that humans could one day create solar-powered nourishment.

Humans have to grow, hunt, and gather food, but many living things aren’t so constrained. Plants, algae and many species of bacteria can make their own sustenance through the process of photosynthesis. They harness sunlight to drive the chemical reactions in their bodies that produce sugars. Could humans ever do something similar? Could our bodies ever be altered to feed off the Sun’s energy in the same way as a plant?

As a rule, animals cannot photosynthesise, but all rules have exceptions. The latest potential deviant is the pea aphid, a foe to farmers and a friend to geneticists. Last month, Alain Robichon at the Sophia Agrobiotech Institute in France reported that the aphids use pigments called carotenoids to harvest the sun’s energy and make ATP, a molecule that acts as a store of chemical energy. The aphids are among the very few animals that can make these pigments for themselves, using genes that they stole from fungi. Green aphids (with lots of carotenoids) produced more ATP than white aphids (with almost none), and orange aphids (with intermediate levels) made more ATP in sunlight than in darkness.

Another insect, the Oriental hornet, might have a similar trick, using a different pigment called xanthopterin to convert light to electrical energy. Both insects could be using their ability as a back-up generator, to provide energy when supplies are low or demand is high. But both cases are controversial, and the details of what the pigments are actually doing are unclear. And neither example is true photosynthesis, which also involves transforming carbon dioxide into sugars and other such compounds. Using solar energy is just part of the full conversion process.

There are, however, animals that photosynthesise in the fullest sense of the word…

[continues at the BBC]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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  • Andrew

    Another solar technology that will never make it to the consumer market.

  • Anarchy Pony

    “Humans have to grow, hunt, and gather food, but many living things aren’t so constrained” How are these methods of nutrient and energy acquisition more constrained than being rooted to one spot?

    • Calypso_1

      Photosynthesis does not necessarily imply being stationary, especially if it is a secondary energy source.  Besides the modern human needs further low energy adaptations to maintain homeostasis as so many are rooted through their backside basking in the glow of media devices.

      • Zenc

        The whole concept of photosynthetic humans recalls to my mind John Scalzi’s _Old Man’s War_.

        • Calypso_1

          I was unfamiliar with it but just read the Wiki.  Sounds pretty cool.  Hugo nominees are usually worth the effort.  Thx.

  • Miracles

    Absurd.   Lrn2biology.  

    • Calypso_1

      Yes, yes you should.

      • Miracles

        You’re right.  I’m obviously rooted in ignorance.  

        I should just meditate in the sun and grow like a fucking shrub.  That’d work, right?  No need for all the extra energy required to operate a metabolism.

        • Calypso_1

          Did you read the actual article?

    • Lrn2science

      Sounds like a kneejerk reaction in response to your scientific dogma coming under question. A true man of science (dis)believes nothing with 100% certitude and acknowledges his own ignorance of the limits of what is possible.

  • Hadrian999

    they’d probably be even bitchier than vegans

  • TruthVybes

    the human body needs to evolve first.Still needs time. Wait for the serpent n the spine and you wn’t need food anymore. I experiencedit recently. it becomes more of a mental thng that can be controlled. Of course, 

    • Andrew

      I’ve experienced many instances of not needing food.

  • Ali

    “Solar powered nourishment”
    You mean like tomatoes?

  • gelikeasics

    …surprised no one brought this up yet…

  • kowalityjesus

    the idea seems totally absurd, but I’ve never seen any representation of a human that looks more like me than that painting.

  • Skadhi_the_Raverner

    Interestingly, speculative zoologist Dougal Dixon featured a sci-fi photosynthesising human descendant in Omni. Unlike most of his species this one is partly bioengineered, though. The ability to use the leaves is actually engineered.

    • Calypso_1

      Thank you for mentioning Dixon.  I stumbled across his Visions Of Man Evolved nearly 30 years ago and only remembered the illustrations.  Been trying to remember the title & author ever since.

      • Skadhi_the_Raverner

        And don’t forget his three books (plus the other one about an alien planet, which is only published in Japan). You can actually see a prototype of the wyrm from The New Dinosaurs in the accompanying images to the Omni article. Of course the wyrms and the wyrm-like bird are extremely improbable biologically, but its still interesting to trace the concept.

        You like Nemo Ramjet too?

        • Calypso_1

          Can’t say that I’m familiar with Nemo Ramjet, believe I’ve seen a few illustrations here and there, but didn’t know the wider work – Thanks, I checked it out, very nice.  Some of the creatures made me think of the evolutions Olaf Stapledon described in his novel Last and First Men.

  • Rossa

    Moreton Bay figs essentially grow in subtropical climates and have a
    very pithy wood – so they don’t lay down good growth rings like trees in
    colder climates. They probably do not live much beyond 150-200 years.
    The oldest known avenue of fig trees in Australia was planted in the
    Domain in Sydney in 1847.