Parasitologists who discovered an unusual species of flatworms that infects turtles in Malaysia have named it in honor of President Barack Obama. The Baracktrema obamai parasite is so unusual within its family that a new genus was created for its nomenclature, the first such action “for this group of turtle parasites in 21 years,” according to a press release from the Journal of Parasitology.
Baracktrema obamai are “likely ancestors of the parasitic flatworms that cause the human disease schistosomiasis, a devastating disease that debilitates millions of people in developing countries annually.” Studying them could further our understanding of how to treat the disease in humans by giving scientists a better idea of how the parasite evolved.
A team of American parasitologists led by Thomas R. Platt collected and discovered the new species of blood-flukes (as parasitic flatworms are commonly called). Now retired from Saint Mary’s College in Indiana, Platt has named a lot of other parasite species before, but the decision to name one in honor of Obama was made after he discovered he shared a common ancestor with the president.
“Baracktrema obamai will endure as long as there are systematists studying these remarkable organisms,” Platt said in the release.
Jackson Roberts, Raphael Orélis-Ribeiro and Ash Bullard, of Auburn University in Alabama, were Platt’s co-authors in the study, which was published in the Journal of Parasitology. It was funded by the National Science Foundation.
This isn’t the first time a species has been named after Obama. Seven other species, including another parasite and an extinct lizard, have already been named after him.