Brazilian scientists have discovered two new strains of fermenting yeast and named them after journalist Dom Phillips and activist Bruno Pereira, two men killed in the Amazon rainforest last year.
According to a research paper published in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, four isolates of Spathaspora species were discovered.
Both species are able to convert d-xylose into ethanol and xylitol, a type of natural sweetener that can be used for diabetes or other biotechnology applications, said Carlos Augusto Rosa, one of the authors of the study.
Rosa said that although the Amazon rainforest is home to 10% of the planet’s biodiversity, much of it remains unexplored, and that percentage is even higher in the yeast region.
Between 30% and 50% of all new yeast microbes found in the areas of Brazil where he and his colleagues work are new to science, he said.
“Hence the importance of research in the area and the efforts of Bruno and Dom to preserve the biome of the area,” Rosa said.
Naming the species after the two late figures “gives recognition, value and tribute to the couple for their work in protecting the environment”, he said.
The two yeasts were obtained from rotting wood in two different locations in the Amazonian forest of Para state, the research paper said.
“The name Spathaspora brunopereira sp. nov. is proposed to accommodate these isolates,” it says.
“The other two isolates were obtained from the zone of transition between the Amazonian forest and the Cerrado ecosystem in the state of Tocantins. The name Spathaspora domphillipsii sp nov is proposed for this novel species.
The paper was written by 11 microbiologists working jointly from three universities in Minas Gerais State, Tocantin State, and Western Ontario, Canada.
Phillips and Pereira were killed in June 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 Washington Post, was working on a book about sustainable development in the Amazon, and Perera, a longtime advocate for indigenous rights, was with him as a guide and local activist.
Four people are in jail 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 novel names.
Beyoncé was given the honor after discovering the Australian horsefly. The blood-sucking crustacean parasite was named Gnathia marley in tribute to reggae star Bob Marley; And in 2019 a beetle was named after environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg.
In 2001, scientists named a species of mushroom Spongiforma squarepantsii after the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.