How to Write Scientific Names in Journal Manuscripts – Bacterial Species (Part 2 of 2)

Research is hard enough without worrying about how to use microbial nomenclature or scientific names of bacteria correctly. Writing bacteria names in a research article can be a huge challenge for scientists, as the guidelines change to reflect new discoveries. Also, Latin names may be confusing. In the first article of this two-part series, we discussed useful tips on writing scientific nomenclature of the plant and animal kingdoms. This article will give you an outline of the major issues researchers face in using microbial nomenclature and a few tips to keep you on track.

 

How are Bacteria Named?

The International Committee on Systematics of Prokaryotes (ICSP) has created guidelines that describe the suitable nomenclature or naming system for bacteria. This system is known as the Bacteriological Code. A bacterium has a binomial name: the genus name, which shows the genus it belongs to, and the species epithet.

When mentioning a bacterium in a paper, the writer must underline or italicize the names in the text. After writing the full name of a microorganism in the first mention, the genus name can be reduced to just the capital letter.

  • For instance, Moraxella bovis can be written M. bovis.

The ICSP recommends spelling out the full name of any bacteria again in the summary of your publication.

When discussing unnamed species, the abbreviation “sp.” is used to refer to a single unnamed species.  Whereas “spp.” is written after a genus refers to multiple unnamed species.

  • For instance, Moraxella sp. would be used to discuss one unnamed species of Moraxella.

Bacteria are often divided into subspecies, which are indicated by subdivisions such as biovar, chemoform, chemovar, cultivar, morphovar, pathovar, serovar, and state.

These subdivisions should be written in plain text preceding an additional italicized or underlined name. For instance, “Rhizobium leguminosarum biovar viciae” would be accurately written as Rhizobium leguminosarum biovar viciae.

Common Issues in the Use of Microbial Nomenclature

There are a few common issues that researchers face when using microbial nomenclature. The first, as you might have figured, is that various types of bacteria might appear to be the same when their names are abbreviated.

M.bovis could indicate Moraxella bovis, Mycoplasma bovis, or Mycobacterium bovis.

In this case, the author should simply take care to either avoid using abbreviations if they might be confusing or clearly state which bacterium is being discussed.

Other issues that researchers face with microbial nomenclature are more complicated. While the Bacteriological Code is frequently interpreted as the “official” list of valid names for bacteria, the Code only provides guidelines on how bacteria should be named. This allows for disagreement, discovery, and evolution in scientific research. For instance, one group of researchers might assign a bacterium to genus A. Similarly, another group of researchers might perform different research and conclude that the same bacterium belongs to genus B. Continuing with our previous example of the bovis species, one bacterium might be referred to as A bovis in one article and B bovis in another.

How do I Know if the Microbial Nomenclature I’m Using is Valid?

Many researchers erroneously think that the most recently published name is the “accurate” name. In reality, as we saw above, this is not the case. A name must be published in an article in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. It may also be published elsewhere if announced in the Validation Lists. Microbial nomenclature is, in other words, a matter of scientific judgment and consensus.

For instance, Helicobacter pylori was immediately accepted as a replacement for Campylobacter pylori by the scientific community, whereas Tatlockia micdadei has not generally been accepted as a replacement for Legionella micdadei.

Finally, the ICSP does not give exact guidelines for how to show taxa after subspecies, such as strain designation. Strain designation should follow the genus and species and is usually a blend of numbers and letters.

For instance, you might write Helicobacter pylori K164:K7, with K164:K7 indicating the specific strain of bacteria used in your work.

When you are uncertain about the accurate usage of microbial nomenclature in your writing, your first stop should be The International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria (1990 Revision). Stay up to date on relevant publications in your field and be aware of any disparities or new discoveries about the classification of bacteria. Lastly, remember that valid names are a matter of scientific judgment and consensus.

Was this article helpful? What other problems or issues have you encountered in using microbial nomenclature in your writing? Let us know in the comments!

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