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Scientist discovers new parasite, names it after Barack Obama

The Baracktrema obamai is a two-inch, hair-thin parasitic flatworm that lives in the blood of turtles in Malaysia. It was discovered by Thomas Platt, a newly retired biology professor at Saint Mary’s College in Indiana.

Platt, who has discovered more than 30 new species, said naming the creature after the U.S. president is an honor not an insult.
“I have named a number of species after people I admire, from my father-in-law, my Ph.D. adviser, and good friends who are academics and/or amateur naturalists,” said Platt, who is a distant relative of Obama.
“Baracktrema obamai will endure as long as there are systematists studying these remarkable organisms.”

According to the Journal of Parasitology, the parasites are likely “distant relatives” of other parasitic flatworms that cause schistosomiasis, a serious disease incapacitating millions of people in poor countries every year.
“The new species is so unusual and distinctive that the research team has named a new genus to include the new species. This is the first time such an action has been taken for this group of turtle parasites in 21 years,” it said.
Scientists said looking into the “evolutionary history of this group of worms” could broaden their knowledge of the origins of schistosomiasis.
The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, “emphasized the fact that freshwater turtles worldwide are increasingly vulnerable to poaching and habitat loss; many species are threatened or endangered,” the journal said.
Anchoring their finding on samples taken from two turtle hosts, Platt and his co-authors – Jackson Roberts, Dr. Raphael Orélis-Ribeiro, and Dr. Ash Bullard, of Auburn University in Alabama – examined the history of the worm and its relationship to other turtle parasites, including the Unicaecum.
Through the combined genetic and morphological information, the results confirmed that Baracktrema and Unicaecum share a recent common ancestor, but scientists have decided that the newly discovered parasitic flatworm should have its own genus.
Rutgers biologist Michael Sukhdeo, editor of the Journal of Parasitology, said parasites are important to life.
Sukhdeo said naming newly discovered creatures entails a huge decision. But he admitted that such decision is sometimes used as a means to exact revenge, saying a biologist even named an entire group of parasites after her former husband.
There’s already a fish, a spider and an extinct lizard named after Obama.

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