New bacteria named after SA CPHO


Wednesday, 14 September, 2022

New bacteria named after SA CPHO

Scientists have been naming new discoveries after celebrities for decades — for example the Beyoncé horse fly (Scaptia beyoncea), the Steve Irwin snail (Crikey steveirwini) or the David Bowie huntsman spider (Heteropoda davidbowie).

When University of Adelaide researchers discovered a new type of lactic acid bacteria, they wanted to pay homage to someone who allowed them to continue their work during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor Nicola Spurrier, South Australia’s Chief Public Health Officer, led a science-based strategy to prevent the spread of COVID-19 before vaccines were available. In recognition of this work, the new bacteria has been named Nicolia spurrieriana.

Professor Spurrier said she was extremely honoured to have a new type of bacteria named after her.

“My father, Dr Ross Smith, was a clinical microbiologist for the University of Adelaide’s School of Medicine for many years — this would have given him much pleasure if he was still alive,” Spurrier said.

This discovery is the first description of lactic acid bacteria found in stingless bees in Australia. Considering the broad use of lactic acid bacteria in the food and medical industries, the opportunity to employ new strains or species could improve processing and economic efficiencies or enable new processes.

Originally published in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, and as part of a broader project led by Professor Vladimir Jiranek, the research seeks to find new organisms that ideally exhibit unique properties.

“It is very distinct genetically from other types of lactic acid bacteria,” said PhD student Scott Oliphant, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine. “It has a much larger genome than its neighbours, as well as the presence of unique genes not shared by other lactic acid bacteria.

Through the generosity of Dr Tim Heard of Sugarbag Bees, Dr Scott Groom from The University of Adelaide was able to collect samples from Brisbane-based native beekeepers.

Field samples of bees and honey cells were taken back to the Jiranek lab, where their native microbes were isolated. After purified microbes were obtained, long read whole genome sequencing was used to determine the taxonomic status. Bacteria are metabolic powerhouses, and their differences are usually seen in what things they can consume, and what interesting products they produce. These differences are all rooted in their DNA.

Image caption: Professor Vladimir Jiranek (left), Head of Wine Science at the University of Adelaide and PhD student Scott Oliphant (middle) with the lactic acid bacteria named in the honour of South Australia’s Chief Public Health Officer, Professor Nicola Spurrier (right). The bacteria may potentially be used in sourdough bread and the fermentation of wine. Photo: The University of Adelaide.

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