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It's a Bug's Life for Bill

publication date: Sep 16, 2015
 | 
author/source: University of Leicester

University of Leicester Professor says having bacteria named after him is an honour

University of LeicesterUniversity of Leicester microbiologist Professor Bill Grant has a new honour to add alongside his career accolades- he has a bug named after him.

His name will be preserved for posterity after an academic journal was printed this month naming a bacterium isolated in Japan after the Leicester scientist.

The International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology  has described and named the bug, giving the name etymology as: “Halarchaeum grantii N.L.gen. masc. n. grantii,  of Grant, named after the microbiologist William D. Grant for his great contribution to the study of Halobacteria." 

Professor Grant, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Microbiology in the Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, said: “The naming procedure starts out by the authors of the article asking the individual whether they can name the organism after him/her and - if agreed - proceed with the description of the organism followed by giving it the name that includes the etymology of the name and the citation describing why the individual is so honoured. 

“The bug in question is often described as a halobacterium because they are confined to very salty places on earth, although, technically they are not bacteria but a completely genetically different line resembling bacteria called archaea that mostly inhabit extreme environments like very salty lakes and hot springs. 

“These are considered to be relatives of the very first life forms that evolved on earth and they have genes that are the ancestors of some genes in present day higher forms of life. The bug in question is a member of a group found in a wide variety of commercial sea salt products, where the salt is made by evaporating down seawater in solar evaporation ponds in hot parts of the world.

“I have worked on the group for almost 40 years and amongst many other things have authored or co-authored the last two definitive taxonomic treatments of the group.

“It is nice to become part of posterity - grantii  will be in the literature for ever.”

Professor Grant said friends and colleagues were mildly interested- but ‘hardly ecstatic!’

“It is not unusual to have a bug named after oneself, but not that common,” said Professor Grant. “Usually accorded to folk that have had a long research association with a bug or group of bugs - taxonomists are most commonly honoured in this way, although I would not consider myself to be primarily a taxonomist, more an environmental microbiologist. I'm not the first in Microbiology at Leicester to have a bug named after them - the late Professor Sneath and my co-author of his Royal Society obituary, Dr Dorothy Jones, both have such.”

As an environmental microbiologist, Professor Grant specialises in extreme environments in locations all around the world from Inner Mongolia to various African sites. He is best known for his work on East African soda lake microbiology (including their special halobacteria) but also halobacteria in ancient salt deposits (salt mines, including a couple in the UK) where it looks as if the halobacteria were entombed when the original salt lakes dried out millions of years ago to form the deposit and have been in suspended animation since that time. That work has been of interest to the astrobiologists since Mars has salt deposits that were once ancient lakes. 

Professor Grant added: “I was involved in drawing up a list of possible biology targets for the ESA Exomars Mars lander. I've also held loads of industrial contracts over the years from modelling potentially troublesome microbial populations in Low Level Nuclear Waste (for BNFL) - also an extreme environment, to contracts with Severn-Trent Water about bacterial growth in the distribution systems.

“I regard this as an accolade from my peers to rank alongside the Lifetime Achievement Award I got from the Society for Extremophile Research in 2012 for much the same reasons.”


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