Two new species of yeast named after Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips

Discoveries that could help diabetics titled in honour of activist and journalist murdered in Amazon

Scientists in Brazil have found two new species of fermenting yeasts and named them after journalist Dom Phillips and activist Bruno Pereira, the two men murdered last year in the Amazon rainforest.

The discovery came from four isolates of the Spathaspora species, according to a paper published in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

Both species are able to convert d-xylose into ethanol and xylitol, a kind of natural sweetener that could be used for diabetics or for other biotechnological applications, said Carlos Augusto Rosa, one of the study’s authors.

Rosa said that even though the Amazon rainforest is home to 10% of the planet’s biodiversity, much of it remains undiscovered and that percentage is even higher in the field of yeasts.

Between 30% and 50% of all new yeast micro-organisms found in the Brazilian regions where he and his colleagues work are new to science, he said.

“Hence the importance of research in this area and also of Bruno and Dom’s efforts to preserve the region’s biome,” Rosa said.

Naming the species after the two late figures “recognises, values and pays tribute to the pair for their work in defence of the environment”, he said.

The research paper reported that the two yeasts were obtained from rotting wood collected in two different sites of the Amazonian forest in the state of Pará.

“The name Spathaspora brunopereirae sp nov is proposed to accommodate these isolates,” it says.

“The other two isolates were obtained from a region of transition between the Amazonian forest and the Cerrado ecosystem in the state of Tocantins. The name Spathaspora domphillipsii sp nov is proposed for this novel species.”

The paper was authored by 11 microbiologists working jointly from three universities in Minas Gerais state, Tocantins state, and Western Ontario, Canada.

Phillips and Pereira were murdered in June last year while they were travelling down a river in the Javari Valley, near Brazil’s border with Peru.

Phillips, a former freelancer for the Guardian and the Washington Post, was working on a book about sustainable development in the Amazon and Pereira, a longtime advocate for indigenous rights, was with him as a guide and local activist.

Four men are in jail accused of ordering or participating in the crime.

Phillips and Pereira join a long list of famous people to have plants or animals named after them. Thousands of new species are identified every year and those who discover them often give them novel names.

Beyoncé was given the honour after the discovery of an Australian horsefly; a blood-sucking crustacean parasite was christened Gnathia marleyi in tribute to reggae star Bob Marley; and a beetle was named after environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg in 2019.

In 2001, scientists named a species of mushroom Spongiforma squarepantsii after the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.


Andrew Downie

The GuardianTramp

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