Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature
Mark Isaak
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Misc.: Biology Terms and Other Names

Biological Terms

abciximab - "a chimeric mouse-human monoclonal antibody directed against the GP IIb/IIIa receptor"; used during angioplasty to prevent platelets from forming clots. It derives from the rather inflexible Nomenclature of monoclonal antibodies: "ab-" = unique prefix; "-ci-" = cardiovascular target; "-xi-" = source is chimeric; "-mab" = suffix for all monoclonal antibodies.
C3PO (a protein involved in RNA interference; see also R2D2) "We named this factor C3PO (component 3 promoter of RISC [RNA-induced silencing complex]) because this is the third component besides Dcr-2 and R2D2 that promotes RISC activity." [Science 325: 750.]
guanine - (one of the 4 bases of DNA) Named after guano (bird excrement), in which it was first found.
halicin - An antibiotic, the first to be developed using neural network machine learning. It is named after the intelligent computer HAL from "2001: A Space Odyssey".
larva - Latin for "ghost" or "ghoul". Since the ghosts of antiquity often disguised themselves, the word also came to mean "mask." Linnaeus used it in that sense for immature forms which "mask" the adult form.
mirasorvone (steroid defensive ejection from the sunburst diving beetle, Thermonectus marmoratus) Named "in honor of Mira Sorvino, who, as Dr. Susan Tyler in the motion picture Mimic, successfully confronted the ultimate insect challenge." [Meinwald et al., PNAS 95: 2733]
MRI - Magnetic Resonance Imaging has become a widespread medical diagnostic technique, but that couldn't happen until the name was changed from Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR). "Nuclear" in the name referred to the fact that only the nuclei of certain atoms are affected by the magnets, but it instilled fear of radiation in general public. For chemical analasys, it is still called MRI.
northern blot - (a technique for separating RNA fragments) First, the Southern blot technique was developed, which separates DNA fragments by gel electrophoresis (so, e.g., probes can then identify specific segments). This technique was named after its inventer, E. M. Southern. When an analogous technique was developed for RNA, its name also followed by analogy. There is also a western blot for proteins. No eastern blot yet.
R2D2 (a protein involved in generating siRNA) The Drosophila proteins which generate small interfering RNA (siRNA) from longer RNA are Dicer-2 and a previously unknown protein. The latter, when described, was named R2, because it contains two dsRNA-binding domains, plus D2, for its association with Dicer-2. [Science 301: 1921]
shmoo - (a projection in yeast cells for mating) Named after a creature from the Li'l Abner comic strip, no doubt due to a resemblance in shape. The cells form this projection in the presence of the pheremone "Kikapoo Joy Juice," another Li'l Abner reference.
snottite - "mucous stalactites"; cave formations produced by colonies of sulphurphilic bacteria, composed of elemental sulphur, iron oxide crusts, gypsum, and bacteria. They take the form of gelatinous, dripping microbial draperies and are highly acidic.
thagomizer - One Far Side cartoon (by Gary Larson) shows a caveman pointing to a picture of the spikes at the end of the tail of a Stegosaurus and saying, "Now this end is called the thagomizer ... after the late Thag Simmons." Paleontologists have adopted the name.

Other Names of Things Biological

ANDi (First genetically modified primate) From "inserted DNA" spelled backwards. The rhesus monkey had a gene for a jellyfish protein inserted in his DNA.
C. C. - (first cloned cat) Short for "copycat".
Ditteaux - first cloned wild carnivore (Felis lybica, an endangered African wildcat). The spelling is an homage to Ditteaux's birthplace, New Orleans, Louisiana.
Dolly - (first cloned sheep) Named after the buxom actress Dolly Parton because the sheep was cloned from mammary cells.

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