Calling all microbiologists --- we need better PR to compete with the platypus and other cutesies

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.

15 comments:

  1. Are you referring to the proportion of press coverage or the number of sequencing targets?

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  2. I like Conan the Bacterium aka Deinococcus radiodurans.

    Or Shaqteria
    http://tinyurl.com/4rovhy

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  3. Well we have the power of music on our side -- Anthrax, Spyrogyra (okay, the latter refers to a eukaryote, but phytoplankton are microbes too!). And weirdly, both Anthrax and Spyrogyra refer to *two* bands each -- a US and UK one.

    Meanwhile, what do those montreme-lovers have? One mere band (not two, mind you) named Platypus. Bah! The muse moves not lovers of one-holed mammals.

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  4. At least you've got the "scary diseases" angle. Drosophila are just plain boring to the popular press unless they're on drugs or gay.

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  5. Ryan - press coverage. With sequencing costs being 1$ per 200 gazillion bases who needs help sequencing.

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  6. I guess I need to get a Tetrahymena tattoo to help promote my organism. Tetrahymena really are very cute. See the new images at the Tetrahymena Stock Center website: http://tetrahymena.vet.cornell.edu/

    By the way, I don’t like “The Hairy Beast” nickname for Tetrahymena. It’s much too masculine, as well as being misleading (they have cilia, but no hair, and they’re not beastly). I’ve always liked “Super Virgin” (since they have four hymens), which is also misleading considering that when they’re hungry Tetrahymena will “do it” with any of the six other mating types.

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  7. Yeah - sex sells Eileen. But just like Tetrahymena has two nuclei it can have two nicknames ...

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  8. I believe the Adopt A Microbe project has made some headway in the PR department.

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  9. My vote for most compelling picture and organism in the push for a more green world can be shown best here (metallireducens).

    http://www.eyeofscience.com/eos2/english/gallery/bakvir/bsp5.html

    By the way, love the blog!

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  10. Full link is here -
    http://www.eyeofscience.com/eos2
    /english/gallery/bakvir/bsp5.html

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  11. Xanthomonas- gumby the crop destroyer

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  12. Serratia marcescens -- the pink pathogen

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  13. Do you have any thoughts on the practicality of a microbiology zoo? It could possibly be a website.

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  14. Didn't MSU's Microbial Ecology project do this with fun names for microbes? Yep:

    http://microbezoo.commtechlab.msu.edu/curious/cindex.html

    From this source:

    http://microbezoo.commtechlab.msu.edu/index.html

    Maybe ASM needs to support an update?

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  15. Didn't MSU's Microbial Ecology project do this with fun names for microbes? Yep:

    http://microbezoo.commtechlab.msu.edu/curious/cindex.html

    From this source:

    http://microbezoo.commtechlab.msu.edu/index.html

    Maybe ASM needs to support an update?

    ReplyDelete