Zappa lives on— in a microbe’s name
T he late Frank Zappa blazed a lot of trails in his day. But now the rock star who experimented wit†h jazz, classical music and performance art has a new accolade. And it seems only fitting that the namesake is a bit off-beat, like the iconoclastic musician himself.
A bacterium has been named P. acnes Zappae by the scientists who discovered that the pimple-causing P. acnes has mutated and is found in grape vines, where it doesn’t appear to cause any damage. The research was published last week in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.
Not surprisingly, the scientists—Andrea Campisano and Omar Rota-Stabelli of the Edmund Mach Foundation in Italy—are huge Zappa fans. “This bacteria is so unconventional in its behavior, and its new habitat is so unexpected, that we thought of Frank Zappa. Indeed, at the time we were discovering it, we were both playing a Zappa album in our cars,” the authors said.
Zappa, whose career was punctuated with hits such as “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” and “Dancin’ Fool,” once wrote of “sand-blasted zits” in his satirical song “Jewish Princess.”
“This is the first time it’s been found that a micro-organism can switch from a human to a plant,” microbiologist Campisano told the Los Angeles Times.
“Probably as soon as humans started to touch this plant, this bug that used to live on human skin found a very hospitable environment inside the cells of the grape vine,” Campisano said. “It has extensively restructured its genome and DNA and it’s now unable to go back to its earlier, human-associated form.”
Zappa, seated at center and shown with his band the Mothers of Invention, will now live on in the annals of science as well as music.