It’s become a trend for states to pick official mascots, from official state trees to toys — and now official bacteria.
In 2010, Wisconsin Democratic state representative, Gary Hebl, drafted a bill that would make the official state microbe Lactococcus lactis, a bacterium that makes cheddar, Colby, and Monterey Jack cheese. The first state to actually officially recognize a microbe, however, was Oregon — the brewer’s yeast, or Saccharomyces cerevisiae — which has been used to make wine, bread, and beer since ancient times.
State legislators in Hawaii have picked up on the idea, too, and hope to choose a microbe for themselves. But they are pretty busy arguing over which bacterium to choose.
Rep. James Kunane Tokioka proposed HB293, which would make Flavobacterium akiainvivens the first official Hawaii state microbe. However, his competitor Sen. Glenn Wakai introduced SB3124, which instead opted for vibrio fischeri. F. akiainvivens was discovered in O’ahu, Hawaii, collected from the decaying wood of a shrub called Wikstroemia oahuensis, or ‘äkia. The shrub is native to the island and was used in ancient Hawaiian medicine, textiles, and fish poison. The bacteria found on ‘äkia looks like this.
Vibrio fischeri, meanwhile, is a bacteria present in the Hawaiian bobtail squid, and it helps this creature be bioluminescent. The legislators will be deciding for another day or so.
“At first glance I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” Tokioka said, according to the Hana Hou! Hawaiian Airlines magazine. “But the more I read about it, I realized it’s not silly. We talk about promoting science, and this serves as an excellent opportunity to do that.”
Biologist Kenneth Kaneshiro of the University of Hawaii agreed that bringing F. akiainvivens to the forefront by dubbing it a state microbe will bring science into the spotlight. “The idea of this bill is to bring more awareness to the flora and fauna found only in Hawaii,” Kaneshiro told the Hawaiian Airlines magazine.