Oregon lawmakers in the House just voted 58-0 to approve its new state microbe. If the state Senate also approves, Oregon will boast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the humble ale yeast, as its unicellular avatar. It makes sense: according to Mark Johnson, the bill's sponsor, the craft brewing business brings Oregon some $2.4 billion in revenues each year.
Contrary to reports you'll read elsewhere, Oregon is not the first state attempt to have its own microbe. That honor goes to Wisconsin. In 2010, lawmakers in the state Assembly tried to elevate Lactococcus lactis, the bacteria used to make buttermilk and cheese, to official state microbe. But the apparently narrow-minded or scientifically incompetent Wisconsin state Senate did not embrace the measure, and so the L. lactis bill languished. Recalcitrant politicians are why Wisconsinites can't have nice things, but let's hope that the Oregonian variety is a bit more enterprising. (It should be noted that Hawaiian lawmakers have also proposed two different, rare microbes to represent Hawaii, but neither have been made official, either.)
While researching this story, I found an interesting letter to Microbe magazine from two microbiologists at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, on the topic. The authors mused that while Wisconsin (and now Oregon) have positive microbes associated with them, efforts by microbiologists to give other states their own microbes are up against some unsavory characters.
If one were to choose a microbe historically associated with a state (due to it being discovered there or to its prevalence in the region) Montana would likely end up with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (Rickettsia rickettsii), Louisiana would get Hansen's Disease, aka leprosy, (Mycobacterium leprae), Connecticut would inherit Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) and Nevada would merit gonorrhea (Neisseria gonorrhoeae). In 2010, another wag suggested certain cities should get their own microbe, and nominated Clostridium botulinum, the unicellular producer of face-freezing Botox, for Los Angeles.
This microbe mascot acknowledgment is a waste of tax dollars and yet it happens anyways. There must be another dollar incentive (follow the money trail, usually finds the answers), less there is nothing else to vote on in Oregon? What gives?!
Don't you get it, Anyicon? The legislators who support this ARE the single cell organisms!
One organism One vote.
I'm sure glad that they didn't have anything more important to do that day than this. Of course, to hear from my family members in that state; that's not the case at all. And Oregon would have been better served to elevate the organism that's killing so many of their trees. THAT, at least; would show the landowners of Oregon, who pay the lionshare of taxes there, that their elected government is at least trying to bring awareness to their plight, as they watch the natural resource value of their land plummet.