Scientists in Brazil found two new species of fermenting yeast and named them after journalist Dom Phillips and activist Bruno Pereira, the two men killed last year in the Amazon jungle.
The discovery came from four isolates of the Spathaspora species, according to a paper published in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.
Both species are capable of converting d-xylose into ethanol and xylitol, a kind of natural sweetener that could be used for diabetics or for other biotechnological applications, said Carlos Augusto Rosa, one of the study’s authors.
Rosa said that while 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 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 of Bruno and Dom’s efforts to preserve the region’s biome,” said Rosa.
Naming the species after the two deceased figures “acknowledges, values and honors the couple for their work in defense of the environment,” he said.
The research paper reported that the two yeasts were obtained from decaying wood collected at 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 from 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 together at three universities in the state of Minas Gerais, the state of Tocantins, and western Ontario, Canada.
Phillips and Pereira were killed in June of last year while traveling on a river in the Javari Valley, near Brazil’s border with Peru.
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 jail charged with 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 novel names.
Beyoncé received the honor after the discovery of an Australian horsefly; a blood-sucking parasitic crustacean was named Gnathia marleyi after reggae star Bob Marley; and a beetle was named after environmental activist Greta Thunberg in 2019.
In 2001, scientists named a species of fungus Spongiforma squarepantsii after the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.