Saturday, April 17, 2010


State microbe?

Long-time readers may remember when these pages were just a few months old, and I wrote about the U.S. House of Representatives attaching to an anti-computer-piracy bill a section that designated the oak as the national tree. Silly though it be, there are lots of these sorts of national and state symbols: officially designated state flowers, trees, birds, mammals, folk dances, sports, hobbies....

Well, the Wisconsin state legislature has gone all that one better: on Thursday, they passed a bill designating an offical state microbe.

Yes, indeed. If the Wisconsin state senate goes along as well, the Lactococcus lactis will soon become the Wisconsin state bacterium. Better than having it be some Streptococcus species, I suppose.

Now, there's no denying that the Lactococcus lactis is important to the economy and life of Wisconsin: it's necessary for the production of cheese. But, really, what's the point of all these official “state &thing” designations? For the most part, they serve no useful purpose, and let's be clear about this: these designations aren't free.

It's not like someone just writes it up like I write this blog entry, and sends it to the governor, who says, “├Łeah, OK, why not?”, and signs it. A lot of legislative time is spent on this stuff, not to mention the lobbying that gets it started, and the record keeping afterward. And then someone decides that the new state animal-dropping needs to be depicted on a plaque in the capitol building, and so on.

Why on Earth do we, as a species, seem to feel the need to waste our time on this stuff?

But, hey, as long as we do that sort of thing, maybe I'll try to get a bill introduced to designate David Paterson as the New York State Dufus. Could be fun.

Update, 19 Apr: New Scientist joins the silliness, with suggestions for State Microbes for other states:

Based on its popularity there, California should surely elevate the botox bacterium Clostridium botulinum to the level of state microbe.

And the retired communities of Florida would appreciate the 250-million-year-old Lazarus bacterium, Bacillus permians, as their pet bug.

Click through for the rest.

No comments: