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Waikato University professors go ‘viral’

16 March 2018

Emeritus Professors Hugh Morgan (left) and Roy Daniel (right).

An overseas research group of scientists is paying tribute to two Emeritus Professors from the Faculty of Science & Engineering by naming two new species of thermophilic bacteria after them.

Emeritus Professors Hugh Morgan and Roy Daniel isolated the two new species of thermophilic cellulolytic bacteria while carrying out research on microorganisms associated with extreme environments in the Thermophile Research Unit at the University of Waikato. The Unit co-ordinates fundamental and applied research on thermophilic bacteria, genes and enzymes.

A thermophile is an organism that thrives at relatively high temperatures, and can be found in geothermally heated regions of the Earth, such as hot springs and geysers, and in decaying plant matter. Isolating species that are able to convert cellulose to sugars and ferment the sugar molecules to ethanol at high temperatures is advantageous for the production of biofuels.

The two new species have been named Caldicellulosiruptor morganii and Caldicellulosiruptor danielli. “The bacteria that have been named after myself and Roy were ones we isolated way back in the 1980s and 1990s,” Dr Morgan says. Both professors had assumed at the time that the new isolates were closely related to one they had previously isolated and named Caldicellulosiruptor saccharolyticum, but a recent study revealed that they are more closely related to isolates from hot pools in Iceland and Japan, than to those in nearby hot pools in New Zealand.

Being forever immortalised in microbiology is “a great honour” for Dr Daniel, who retired in 2013. “It’s definitely very flattering,” he says. “This kind of thing is not commonly done, so the naming news came as a bit of surprise to me.” Dr Morgan is also flattered and honoured that a new species of bacterium now bears his name. “It’s very pleasing to have overseas groups recognise the importance of our research in this way,” he says.

The overseas research group is headed by Professor Robert Kelly from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State University.

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