Frank Zappa Gets A Zit-Causing Bacterium Named After Him
    By News Staff | February 18th 2014 07:07 PM | 4 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Would avant-garde musician be offended that scientists named a zit-causing bacterium P. acnes type Zappae.

    No, he would probably laugh. 

    But to winemakers it's not all that funny, it's instead a striking case of pathogen transfer. Campisano, et. al., report in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution about a new type of P. acnes which exploits grapevines. P. acnes type Zappae got the naming nod with multicultural layers. In Italian Zappa means "hoe" and he once wrote of "sand-blasted zits" in his song "Jewish Princess" on the "Sheik Yerbouti "album.  The 1970s saw a lot of people sympathizing with terrorists and Zappa said it wasn't bigotry if it was true, so there you have 1970s rationalization in a nutshell. 

    The bacterium was first discovered by the research team via a 16S rDNA gene-based microbiome analysis gathered from the stems of plants sampled from multiple sites throughout Northeast Italy.

    The bacterium colonizes bark tissues, and the pith, where the bacterium can localize intracellularly. Thus, compared to being a bane to millions of teenage faces, P. Zappae has adapted to an entirely new intracellular ecological niche in grapevines.

    The research team also investigated the evolutionary history of P. Zappae by using two marker genes, recA and tly. Remarkably, their results support a human origin for the P. Zappae bacterium. Their data also suggests a loss of function of recA, a protein essential for the repair of DNA, which means that P. Zappae must rely on its grapevine host for survival. Finally, they estimate the emergence of P. Zappae around 7,000 years ago, an age highly compatible with the first domestication of the grapevine and a time when human intensive practices, such as the grafting and pruning of vines, may have led to the transfer to its new host.

    This is the first evidence ever of human to plant obligate transfer and gives new perspective of bacteria host transfer between humans and domesticated plants. The significance of P. Zappae and its influence on plant growth and health will be continued in future studies.

    "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," say authors Andrea Campisano and Omar Rota-Stabelli.

    Someone still listens to Frank Zappa. That is pretty eclectic in its own right.


    It shouldn't be a surprise that people 'still' listen to Zappa. Really, the last two sentences of this article were unnecessary.

    I still listen to Zappa. Does that make me eclectic? I had the scary pleasure of interviewing him back in 1988.

    It makes you old. :-)

    There is almost no bio of Zappa that does not use the term 'eclectic' so its use seems fair when two scientists say they were coincidentally listening to him at the same time and used the term 'album'. He was obviously talented and I dig that he believed in freedom too much to not be an enemy of the Gore family and mainstream Democrats. That's classic '60s hippie stuff and we could use a lot more of it today.

    Is your interview available anywhere or is it stuck on some DAT with no way to play it?

    It's on a cassette tape somewhere. I should look for it. He talks about the Gores and how they wanted to go to dinner with him during the whole PMRC nonsense. It was funny. In the beginning of the phone interview it was all short, clipped answers until I asked about the upcoming tour set list. He mentioned one song and I went into Zappa fan mode and said excitedly, "Wow. The only time I ever heard you do that song was on Thanksgiving in '74 at Alice Tully Hall in NYC." His mood changed when he realized I was a fan and knew his music and after that I couldn't shut him up.