New species of sea creature named after UNC Wilmington professor, lab

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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Two new species of sea squirts have been named in honor of a local marine biology professor and a lab at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

According to the university, sea squirts are marine animals that live on things like pier pilings, ship hulls, rocks and large shells. They’re called sea squirts for the way they move — by contracting their bodies and ejecting streams of water.

UNCW associate professor Susanna Lopez-Legentil has been working with sea squirts since 1999 and was one of the first researchers to use DNA sequencing to look at the genetic differences in various populations.

New species P. lopezlegentilae paid homage to Lopez-Legentil, and new species P. imesa honored the Integrated Molecular Ecology of Sponges and Ascidians lab at UNCW, also called the iMESA lab.

“There are no words to explain how I felt when I saw the publication and the beautiful two species named after the iMESA Lab and me,” López-Legentil said in a news release. “It is a rare honor for a scientist to have a species named after him or her. It is even rarer to have a species named after a particular lab within a university. I felt deeply honored and thankful that my colleagues would think so highly of me and my lab’s work.”

The professor’s latest work focuses on identifying native and nonnative species in harbors and marinas across the U.S. Lopez-Legentil and her team traveled to Puerto Rico in March to collect sea squirts as part of an NOAA grant program to help protect Puerto Rican marine ecosystems from invasive species.

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