A group of Clemson University undergraduate microbiology students had the honor of naming a novel strain of the Legionella bacteria that they analyzed. The newly-named strain is from the Legionella genus — the most common cause of waterborne bacterial outbreaks in the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave the honor of naming Legionella clemsonensis to the group, who named it after their university.
The newly named strain of Legionella was part of a batch of 68 strains the CDC sent to Clemson students to analyze. Associate biological sciences professor Tamara McNealy told South Carolina Radio Network they found through their research that there was nothing similar to this strain.
“While we knew they were Legionella, they didn’t match up to anything in the current database of bacterial species,” McNealy said. “It’s like knowing their last name but not their first names.”
McNealy collaborated with Claressa Lucas, director of the CDC Legionella lab, to characterize the unknown strains.
Undergraduate students Joseph Painter, Kyle Toth, Kasey Remillard, Rayphael Hardy and Scott Howard, sequenced two genes at the Clemson University Genomics Institute to identify the species or to find out if they were novel. “One of the strains Joseph was assigned turned out to be novel, or not significantly matching anything in the database,” McNealy said.
A second wave of students, including Hayley Hassler, now a junior; Allie Palmer, a master’s student in McNealy’s lab; along with Vince Richards, an assistant professor in the biological sciences department, worked to validate that L. clemsonensis does indeed fall separately from the other known Legionella strains.
If Legionella is inhaled by someone who is elderly it could lead to a treatable form of pneumonia. The bacteria live in biofilms of all manmade water systems and are found in freshwater lakes, streams and rivers. Around 4,000 to 5,000 cases are reported annually in the U.S., although McNealy speculated that estimate is probably low.