Although the recent finding of new digestive gut microbes in termites may not sound too exciting, these microbes help termites break down the most durable components in wood, which is an ability that virtually no other animal on the planet is capable. The three new microbes have been named pseudotrichonympha leei, pseudotrichonympha lifesoni, and pseudotrichonympha pearti. For some eagle eyed readers these names may look vaguely familiar. The new microbes listed above are named after Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart. In case you did not know, these three people are members of the 1970s band named Rush. It may seem odd that scientists chose to immortalize their discovery by naming the new microbes after an outdated rock band, but they had a good reason. The three new microbes all have flagella that are abundant and very long. These lengthy flagella resemble long hair. More specifically the flagella reminded the scientists of the excessively long hair styles that each of the three band members had sported in their heydey. Not only that, but the microbes would use their flagella to rhythmically spin and dance while frequently engaging in time “signature changes”. The band would compose their songs to also include time signature changes, which is not a common music writing tactic. The scientist chose to name the microbes after the band members in order to attract the public’s interest to matters of science.


At the moment it appears that the strange microbes may help termites digest lignocellulose, but this has not yet been proven. Lignocellulose is a complex of cellulose and lignin. Lignin is an organic polymer that makes the cell walls in plants durable. Lignin gives wood and bark its toughness. The new microbes all belong to the pseudotrichonympha species. However, the three new microbes all have strange internal rotating structures that have never been observed before in this species. More studies need to be conducted in order to understand more about these particular microbes.


Do you think naming scientific discoveries after celebrities trivializes science? Or does this naming trend attract positive attention to science?


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