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

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

The discovery comes 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 type of natural sweetener that could be used for diabetics or other biotechnology applications, said Carlos Augusto Rosa, one of the study’s authors.

Rosa said that although 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 yeast realm.

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 of Bruno and Dom’s efforts to preserve the region’s biome,” Rosa said.

Naming the species after the two deceased figures “recognises, appreciates and recognizes the couple for their work to protect the environment,” he said.

The research paper reported that the two yeasts were derived from rotting wood collected from two different locations in the Amazon forest in Pará state.

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

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

The paper was authored by 11 microbiologists collaborating at three universities in the states of Minas Gerais, Tocantins and Western Ontario, Canada.

Phillips and Pereira were murdered in June last year while navigating a river in the Javari Valley near the Brazil-Peru border.

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

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

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

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

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


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