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

Brazilian scientists have discovered two new species of fermented yeast 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 Spathaspora species, according to an article 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 biotech applications, said Carlos Augusto Rosa, one of the authors of the study.

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

Between 30% and 50% of all new yeast microorganisms 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 the efforts of Bruno and Dom to preserve the biome of the region,” Rosa said.

Naming the species after the two deceased figures “acknowledges, values ​​and honors the couple for their work on behalf of the environment”, he said.

The research paper reports that the two yeasts were obtained from decaying wood collected from two different sites in the Amazon rainforest in the state of Pará.

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

“The other two isolates were obtained in a transition region between the Amazon rainforest and the Cerrado ecosystem in the state of Tocantins. The name Spathaspora domphillipsii sp nov is proposed for this new species.

The article was written by 11 microbiologists working jointly at three universities in Minas Gerais State, Tocantins State and Western Ontario, Canada.

Phillips and Pereira were murdered in June last year as they traveled down a river in the Javari Valley near the Brazil-Peru border.

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

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

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

Beyoncé received the honor after the discovery of an Australian horsefly; a blood-sucking crustacean parasite named Gnathia marleyi in honor of reggae star Bob Marley; and a beetle was named after environmental activist Greta Thunberg in 2019.

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

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