What do a trio of Canadian rock icons have in common with germs living in the guts of termites?
Researchers at the University of British Columbia say the very small organisms have, hair-like flagella and bob about like the members of their prog-rock band Rush.
Now, three new species of microbe have been named after the group’s members; singer Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart.
The findings, and the new names, have been published in the online journal Scientific Reports.
Microbiologist Patrick Keeling is the senior author of the paper and he says lots of Rush lyrics also have been hidden in the writing, “just for fun.”
Keeling says the scientists expect naming the organisms following a beloved group gets more people interested in mathematics.
“Science is encouraged by society, therefore we like to tell them what we are doing and get them excited about science,” he says. “And thus far the response to this was overwhelmingly positive.”
One of those taking note of the scientific heritage are the group members, who posted a message on Twitter saying they love their namesakes.
“Using a microbe named after every us is a hugely miniature honour!” the Tweet says.
Rush has existed since the late 1960s and has produced hits like “Tom Sawyer” and “Closer to the Heart.”
The thought of naming the new species came from Javier del Campo, a Spanish post-doctoral student working in Keeling’s laboratory who had recently asked for some recommendations on Canadian music.
Keeling, a lifelong fan, proposed Rush. He states del Campo loved the music and made a link between photos of this group and what he was seeing under a microscope.
“Basically, (the germs) bob their heads around and thrash their hair around and it just kind of reminded us of publicity photos of bands you see in the 1970s,” Keeling says.
The scientific names for the Pseudotrichonympha species are P. leei, P. lifesoni, and P. pearti. Keeling says his laboratory studies them as a hobby since they are “amazing to check out.”
“They are big, super complex cells which squiggle and twist around a lot, and they are only a great deal of fun. Pretty, just amazing forms,” he says.
Located in the hindgut of termites, the organisms digest timber into sugars, Keeling explains.
The researchers also have made a movie showcasing the germs, where viewers can observe the organism wriggle as Rush’s music plays in the background.