Meet Baracktrema Obamai: Experts Name New Parasite After Barack Obama


U.S. President Barack Obama has been honored in a unique way.

Researchers have discovered a new species of parasitic flatworms inhabiting turtles and has named it Baracktrema obamai, detailing their work in a study published in The Journal of Parasitology. Parasites are beautiful and resilient, so the researchers saw naming their discovery after Obama as an act of honor.

According to lead researcher Dr. Thomas R. Platt, the idea to name the parasite after the U.S. president came after he discovered that they are related: fifth cousins, twice removed. They have a common ancestor called George Frederick Toot, who lived in Middletown, Pennsylvania, between 1759 and 1815.

Long and thin and "cool as hell," the newly christened parasitic flatworms infect turtles.

"They 'face incredible obstacles to complete their journey (life cycle) and must contend with the immune system of the host in order to mature and reproduce,'" Platt said.

Platt, who is a retired professor of biology at Saint Indiana's Mary's College, called the parasite phenomenally incredible and eliciting profound respect.

"Baracktrema obamai will endure as long as there are systematists studying these remarkable organisms," he added.

Considering the unusual characteristics of the group of turtle parasites, the American parasitologists' team decided to categorize them into a separate genus and added as a new species. Characterized by threadlike bodies, the parasite was most prominently observed in the black marsh turtle (Siebenrockiella crassicollis), freshwater turtles and the Malaysian box turtle (Cuora amboinensis).

Once inside a turtle, the parasites penetrate the lungs and lay hundreds of fluke eggs. However, it is unclear how they infect the hosts in the first place.

Parasitologists are also of the belief that the turtle parasites could be the possible ancestors of the flatworms that are spreading the disease Schistosomiasis in developing countries and affecting millions of people.

In August, the death of thousands of fish prompted the closure of the popular Yellowstone River in Montana, as well as hundreds of miles of other waterways.

According to the state wildlife officials, the deaths were caused by a parasite not native to the area. This means it was likely introduced by people through contaminated boats or fishing waders or other means, although it is also possible for birds to have acquired the virus from another area and transported it to Montana.

Decontamination stations were set up by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to help stem the problem. The agency also advised the public to be more mindful of cleaning their equipment when moving between bodies of water.

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