You’ve probably heard of state flowers, state birds, etc. in terms of things chosen to be officially representative of a state. But you probably never thought of a state microbe. Well, it exists and now New Jersey is the second state to have one. Governor Phil Murphy signed the bill officially recognizing Streptomyces griseus as New Jersey’s state microbe on May 10.
Streptomyces griseus was discovered in New Jersey soil in 1916 by Dr. Selman Waksman and Dr. Roland Curtis. A team of Rutgers University researchers including Selman Waksman, Albert Schatz, and Elizabeth Bugie used the microbe to create the antibiotic streptomycin in 1943; Dr. Selman Waksman was awarded the 1952 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology for discovering the microbe and creating the antibiotic. Streptomycin was the first systemic antibiotic discovered in America and the first effective treatment for tuberculosis. The mortality rate from tuberculosis in the U.S. fell dramatically following the advent of streptomycin, from 194 deaths per 100,000 people (infected and uninfected) in 1900 to about 9 deaths per 100,000 people in 1955. Streptomycin is also the first-line treatment for the plague. The development of streptomycin was of huge benefit to the economy of the state due to its influence on the antibiotic industry.
Oregon was the first state to officially recognize a state microbe in 2013 with Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is more commonly known as brewer’s yeast or baker’s yeast. S. cerevisiae is important to Oregon’s craft beer industry.
Other states considering official state microbes:
Wisconsin proposed Lactococcus lactis, a bacterium that ferments lactose and is used in making cheese and other dairy products, in 2009. Wisconsin is the largest cheese producer in the United States (26% of all cheese or 3.1 billion pounds).
Hawaii has proposed bills for two microbes but as yet neither has passed. Flavobacterium akiainvivens was nominated twice (2013, 2017). F. akiainvivens may have antibiotic properties and was isolated from a decaying ʻākia shrub. Aliivibrio fischeri, which provides bioluminescence to the native Hawaiian bobtail squid, was nominated in 2014.
Illinois on February 15, 2019, introduced legislation nominating Penicillium chrysogenum NRRL 1951, which was isolated from a moldy cantaloupe found in Peoria, Illinois. Penicillin is produced by the mold Penicillium chrysogenum and was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928; however, early strains produced low yields of unstable penicillin. Techniques for mass production of penicillin were developed at the USDA Northern Regional Research Laboratory (NRRL) in Peoria, Illinois. Many commercial strains used by pharmaceutical companies trace their ancestry back to Penicillium chrysogenum NRRL 1951.
Maybe someday soon we will see other states having their own official microbes.