Bacteria named in honor of nationally known biomedical researcher at UTHSCT

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A newly identified species of Nocardia – a rod-shaped bacterium that causes a number of human infections, including pneumonia – has been named for Richard Wallace, MD, a professor of medicine and microbiology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler.

According to a paper recently posted online by the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, Nocardia wallacei was named for Dr. Wallace “in recognition of his contributions to the understanding of the taxonomy and drug susceptibility of Nocardia species.”

Taxonomy is the area of biological science concerned with the identification, naming, and classification of living things according to common characteristics.

“Dr. Wallace has been studying Nocardia for over 30 years and is considered to be the expert in the field of nocardial disease,” said Patricia Conville, MS, lead author of the article and research medical technologist in the Microbiology Service of the Department of Laboratory Medicine at the Warren G. Magnuson Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md., part of the National Institutes of Health.

“His work in promoting an understanding of the taxonomy of these organisms and his dedication to finding effective treatment for nocardial infections has had a huge impact on patient care. I think everyone involved in this manuscript is thrilled to honor him with his own Nocardia species,” she said.

Conville and the other authors of the article, “Nocardia wallacei, sp. nov., and Nocardia blacklockiae, sp. nov., Human Pathogens and Members of the Nocardia transvalensis complex,” identified these two disease-causing bacteria strains, each representing a new Nocardia species.

Nocardia blacklockiae is named after the late Zeta Blacklock, a colleague of Dr. Wallace and director of the Queensland Department of Health’s Laboratory of Microbiology and Pathology in Brisbane, Australia.

Because they were the first to describe these two new species, the authors earned the right to name them.

Besides Conville, the article’s other authors are June M. Brown of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta; Arnold G. Steigerwalt of the CDC; Barbara Brown-Elliott, senior research scientist and supervisor of the Mycobacteria/Nocardia Research Lab at UTHSCT; and Frank G. Witebsky of the NIH.

Dr. Wallace said it was a great honor to have a Nocardia strain named after him.

“I am honored and humbled that such world-renowned scientists as the authors of this study would do this. In the past, most newly described bacteria have been named for deceased scientists, so this distinction is even more special,” he said.

Much of the research into Nocardia has been done at UTHSCT, where Dr. Wallace has been a physician and researcher for more than 30 years.

“This honor is validation that all the work I did meant something to the scientific world, besides what it meant to me. I think it’s a reflection that quality science is a reflection of quality people, the people I collaborated with for over 30 years,”
Dr. Wallace said.

Co-author Brown-Elliott said, "The ultimate accomplishment for a microbiologist is to have your peers name an organism such as a bacteria in your honor.”

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