A Cal Poly Pomona professor who studies “solar powered sea slugs” has received a grant from the National Science Foundation that will fund his research for three more years.
Biology Professor Angel Valdes’ research focuses on the evolution of sacoglossan sea slugs, which have the unusual ability to photosynthesize like a plant. They do this by absorbing chloroplasts from the algae they eat, and incorporating them into their bodies, a process completely unique among animals.
“Sea slugs seem to be a rather obscure topic for research, but these organisms are actually incredibly important and studying them may provide important information to improve human lives and understand how our oceans work,” Valdes says.
Some species of the slugs have been discovered to produce anti-cancer compounds, while others are being used to control the growth of invasive algae. Though the slugs are highly diverse, they, like many other types of marine life, face threats from pollution and climate change.
Valdes’s lab will split the $527,000 grant with the lab of Patrick Krug, a Cal State L.A. professor who also studies sacoglossans. The funds will be used to train graduate and undergraduate students, develop web-based resources and study diversity in marine ecosystems.