Day 02 : Read EBook - A Systematic Approach

7. Naming Microbes

In developing his taxonomy, Linnaeus used a system of binomial nomenclature, a two-word naming system for identifying organisms by genus and species. For example, modern humans are in the genus Homo and have the species name sapiens, so their scientific name in binomial nomenclature is Homo sapiens. In binomial nomenclature, the genus part of the name is always capitalized; it is followed by the species name, which is not capitalized. Both names are italicized.

Taxonomic names in the 18th through 20th centuries were typically derived from Latin, since that was the common language used by scientists when taxonomic systems were first created. Today, newly discovered organisms can be given names derived from Latin, Greek, or English. Sometimes these names reflect some distinctive trait of the organism; in other cases, microorganisms are named after the scientists who discovered them. The archaeon Haloquadratum walsbyi is an example of both of these naming schemes. The genus, Haloquadratum, describes the microorganism’s saltwater habitat (halo is derived from the Greek word for “salt”) as well as the arrangement of its square cells, which are arranged in square clusters of four cells (quadratum is Latin for “foursquare”). The species, walsbyi, is named after Anthony Edward Walsby, the microbiologist who discovered Haloquadratum walsbyi in in 1980. While it might seem easier to give an organism a common descriptive name—like a red-headed woodpecker—we can imagine how that could become problematic. What happens when another species of woodpecker with red head coloring is discovered? The systematic nomenclature scientists use eliminates this potential problem by assigning each organism a single, unique two-word name that is recognized by scientists all over the world.

In this text, we will typically abbreviate an organism’s genus and species after its first mention. The abbreviated form is simply the first initial of the genus, followed by a period and the full name of the species. For example, the bacterium Escherichia coli is shortened to E. coli in its abbreviated form. You will encounter this same convention in other scientific texts as well.