Researchers name parasitic flatworm after Barack Obama

Researchers name parasitic flatworm after Barack Obama
Southeast Asian box turtles (Cuora amboinensis), hosts of Baracktrema obamai, at feeding time. (Image: Screen grab of YouTube video posted by VietNamTurtle Keeper)

The magazine Popular Science reported on Thursday that scientists at Auburn University have named a newly identified parasitic flatworm after President Barack Obama.

The parasite’s official name is Baracktrema obamai.  The genus species is a blood fluke found in the lungs of turtles in Malaysia.  B. obamai is said to have a “long, thread-like body,” and to have shown up so far in two varieties of freshwater turtles.

According to the article:

The scientists found clusters of tens to hundreds of fluke eggs in the turtles’ lung alveoli, the tiny sacs where blood receives oxygen and gets rid of carbon dioxide. How these eggs get outside to hatch and infect new hosts isn’t clear, although making the turtles cough is probably involved.

The inventive among us will no doubt find a way to relate the “coughing turtles” concept to the 2016 presidential campaign.

The blood fluke Baracktrema obamai, which represents both a new genus and species of parasitic flatworm. (Image: Roberts et al. (2016) via Popular Science)
The blood fluke Baracktrema obamai, which represents both a new genus and species of parasitic flatworm. (Image: Roberts et al. (2016) via Popular Science)

In case this report seems a little far-fetched, here is the link to the scholarly article on the flatworm at the Journal of Parasitology.  The Journal tells us a bit more about B. obamai:

Baracktrema and Unicaecum Stunkard, 1925 are the only accepted turtle blood fluke genera having the combination of a single cecum, single testis, oviducal seminal receptacle, and uterine pouch. Baracktrema differs from Unicaecum by having a thread-like body approximately 30−50× longer than wide and post-cecal terminal genitalia. Unicaecum has a body approximately 8−12× longer than wide and terminal genitalia that are anterior to the distal end of the cecum. The new genus further differs from all other accepted turtle blood fluke genera by having a cecum that is highly convoluted for its entire length, a spindle-shaped ovary between the cirrus sac and testis, a uterine pouch that loops around the primary vitelline collecting duct, a Laurer’s canal, and a dorsal common genital pore.

Popular Science explains what you may have been wondering about:

This parasitic flatworm has been dubbed Baracktrema obamai, in honor of the President of the United States (who is the fifth cousin twice removed of one of the discovering scientists).

This isn’t the first species to be named after President Obama.  He has also been honored in the naming of Obamadon gracilis, a prehistoric lizard species discovered in Montana some 40 years ago, and a darter fish, Etheostoma obama, found in the Duck and Buffalo Rivers of the Tennessee River drainage.

The president also has a species of orange-colored lichen, Caloplaca obamae, named for him.  No doubt there will be 2016-election jokes spun from that data point as well.

LU Staff

LU Staff

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