Well, much as I hate to admit it, I find myself agreeing with the notion that cuteness sells in genome sequencing. That is in essence the claim of Natalie Anger in an article in the New York Times about all the attention the platypus genome paper has been receiving over the last week (see
A Gene Map for the Cute Side of the Family - New York Times
Alas, microbiologists really do not have anything like this no? I mean, who feels that E. coli or yeast are, well, cute? (Well, even if you have one of those "giant microbes" stuffed animals, that just means you are a dork like me ... the public does not collect those). Sure, Carl Zimmer can get some attention for all the geeky tattoos out there and some of them did have something to do with microbes, but again, a platypus they are not.
So what are we forlorn microbiologists to do? We need better PR and imagery. We need cute microbes. We need more dark and evil microbes too (I mean, if anyone sequenced the T-rex genome - for real - it would get attention too).
So - I am calling all microbiologists and microbiology fans --- bring forth your imagery that will help microbes get the attention they deserve. And today I am suggesting just one simple thing we can all do to make a difference: get some new names.
That is, give your favorite microbe a good common name or nickname to bring out the cuddly or dark imagery we need. All microbes names should conjure up something to the public, like anthrax does (yes, I know, anthrax is the disease and not the microbe , but this adherence to rules is part of the problem we have).
Here are some proposed name changes for organisms I have worked on:
Wolbachia - "The Feminizer"
Tetrahymena - "The Hairy Beast"
Carboxydothermus hydrogenoformans - "Exploding Breath of Death"
Chlorobium tepidum - "Little Green Machine"
So - please - come up with nicknames for all your bugs and start to use them or at least post them here.