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USF research included in Encyclopedia Britannica

TAMPA, Fla. -- Important findings from a University of South Florida research study on sea slugs have been included in the Encyclopedia Britannica’s “Book of the Year,” which highlights the most important scientific discoveries from 2010.

The “Book of the Year” features the work of Sidney Pierce, a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology. Pierce and his team -- postdoctoral researcher Nicholas Curtis and Ph.D. candidate Julie Schwartz, have been studying a variety of sea slugs that feed on marine algae.

For Pierce, this honor has an extra special meaning. Pierce said when he was about 18 years old, he tried to sell encyclopedias door-to-door for a summer job.

“I lasted about two weeks at it, and it was one of the experiences that made me stay in college,” Pierce said.

The “Book of the Year” includes Pierce’s study, which demonstrated that some symbiotic relationships between algae and animals have resulted in the movement of functional genes, called gene transfer, between the two species. In this seminal discovery, Pierce and his team have demonstrated that the animal uses genes from algae to make chlorophyll and is able to photosynthesize. The transferred genes have been incorporated into the host organism’s DNA and are transmitted to the next generation.

According to Pierce, this research has “broad implications beyond sea slug biology, including mechanisms of evolution and even gene therapy. Presently gene therapy in humans does not work very well, but these slugs have figured out how to do it.”

“It’s nice to have our work recognized,” Pierce said. “However, importance in science is really how it fares in the long term. We’ll see about that.”

Since 1938, Encyclopedia Britannica has published the “Book of the Year.”


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Integrative Biology Research School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics  
Author: Kirstin Hermansen