Stellar Orbs

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Note: The image is an overhead view.

Stellar Orbs split from their ancestor. These little crystal flora seem at first to just be like their ancestor but with more leaves, but something very strange has happened with their biology: by freak chance, their fungal core has obtained cellulose through horizontal gene transfer.

Horizontal gene transfer is not an uncommon phenomenon, even in complex multicellular organisms. However, the chances of obtaining a useful gene are low. Even lower are the chances of obtaining and then being able to utilize an entire material previously alien to one’s own biology. And without any prokaryotic players involved, as is the case on Sagan IV, the chances diminish even more. Yet, this is exactly what has happened with the Stellar Orbs. The exact type of cellulose obtained is that which is commonly used in Asterfolia, and this occurred as a result of DNA accidentally being carried by a Protoviramoeba endocyton into the fungal cell of a crystal spore. Eventually, the new material came into use, and all chitin in the fungal core was replaced with cellulose.

Though the floral crystal shell of the Stellar Orbs is still chitinous, the impact of so much chitin being replaced with cellulose was massive and near-instantaneous. Stellar Orbs are the fastest-growing crystal flora yet to evolve, as their nutritional requirements are vastly reduced. They retain mixotrophy, as the chitinous leaf shell still requires a lot of nitrogen to grow. Similar to their ancestor, they are rooted bush-like organisms. A vascular system carries nutrients obtained from detritus into the leaves to help them grow, as they cannot obtain enough from the sun and surrounding water alone.

There are many species of Stellar Orbs. They are common in estuaries, where detritus from inland makes its way to the sea, and in shallows associated with upwellings, where nutrients are brought up from the deep ocean. Cold-water species are slower growing, but they still generally grow faster than other crystals in the area. A handful of species live in deeper waters and make use of different pigments such as red and gold, a trait they inherited as crystal flora.