Dr. Terry Gosliner in the field

Four questions with Dr. Terry Gosliner, Senior Curator of the Academy's Invertebrate Zoology and Geology department.

What are some of the most unusual aspects of nudibranch evolution?

Nudibranchs eat things that are poisonous and incorporate the toxins into their own bodies. We’re finding some of these chemicals are very effective at suppressing cell growth. Other nudibranchs that feed on jellyfish and their relatives have specialized organelles that can absorb those stinging cells. Once those cells undergo maturation within the nudibranch, they can utilize these qualities for their own defense. The FDA is conducting clinical trials on cancer-fighting medicine developed from nudibranchs, but they’re not yet certified.

How did sustainability come to be an Academy focus?

It was part of our original focus. Ordinary citizens who recognized the destructive consequences of hydraulic mining in the Sierras during California’s Gold Rush era founded the Academy. By 1853, the state was already changing at an alarmingly rapid rate. They saw a huge impact on the natural environment. We aren’t newcomers to this issue. The Sierra Club, for example, was founded within the Academy’s walls. Sustainability is part and parcel of what we’ve done throughout our entire history, but we’ve had to step up our activities because the challenges we face today are so urgent.

What’s the goal behind new Academy partnerships with nonprofits such as Conservation International?

Our overall strategy to develop a more sustainable future in these rich, biodiverse regions, like the Coral Triangle, is to work in partnership with scientific, government, conservation, and educational organizations to develop a more sustainable future. We call that “developing capacity,” when we train local people to be more effective in monitoring their own biodiversity. The natural environment is undergoing such rapid change that scientists no longer have the luxury of taking fifteen years or so to communicate their findings.

How does Citizen Science fit in?

If you’re trying to monitor what’s going on with scientific biodiversity, there aren’t enough scientists on the planet to be out there making observations all the time. You really need a large community of people asking the right questions: "Is this interesting?" "Is this different?" "Is this something I haven’t seen before?" Those kind of questions were my own springboard into a life in science, and we all have the capacity to do that. The potential and promise of Citizen Science is to increase our science literacy and stewardship. That’s really taking off, and that gives me great hope.

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More About Dr. Terry Gosliner

Department: Invertebrate Zoology and Geology
Title: Senior Curator of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology
Expeditions: 70

Academy Videos:
"Nature Kid" Meets Nudibranchs
Protecting Unique Ecosystems
Everyday Adventure
Coral Bleaching 

Related Content:
"Scientist at Work" blog, The New York Times
"From Beautiful Nudibranchs to Coral Graveyards: Marine Research in the Indian and Pacific Oceans," The Huffington Post 
The Wild World of Undersea Worms, Fora TV

Dr. Gosliner on IBSS

Learn more about Dr. Gosliner's research, publications, and current projects by visiting the research side of our website, home to the Academy's Institute for Science and Sustainability.

Invertebrate Zoology & Geology at the Academy

Explore IZG projects and expeditions, meet curators and researchers, and browse some of the 2.5 million specimens in the collection.