This clam can change the future of energy

Giant clam (AP Images)
A giant clam on display at the Waikiki Aquarium in Hawaii. (AP Images)

Could the giant clam’s colorful lips hold the key to renewable energy? At 200 kilograms, and with life spans exceeding a century, these magnificent mollusks draw a lot of power from the sun. What’s their secret?

Tiny algae live deep inside a clam’s shell. They convert sunlight into energy and feed the clam through photosynthesis. Turns out those clam lips act as a super-effective mirror. They “redirect photons from sunlight deeper into the clam’s tissue,” says Dan Morse of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Scientist crouching between rows of algae-encrusted material (AP Images)
A scientist experiments with algae, part of a project that aims to help reduce CO2 emissions produced by coal plants. (AP Images)

Scientists studying new energy sources are taking note. Since the clam-algae combo acts like a natural power plant, understanding how the clam’s lips transfer light and how the algae are arranged inside the clam may help us design a better solar panel or use algae to make biofuels.

But none of this can happen if the giant clam disappears. Already, it has been declared a vulnerable species. Global warming besieges its home in the Indian and South Pacific coral seas. Overharvesting is another threat.

What can you do to help protect the giant clam and other aquatic animals? Educate yourself about green energy, volunteer at a beach cleanup or pledge to use less plastic.