State capitol: Photo by Emily Metcalf

BY JIM DOOLEY – A bill that would recognize an “official microbe” of the state of Hawaii was passed by the House of Representatives today.

No other state in the union has officially adopted a germ.

State capitol: Photo by Emily Metcalf

Wisconsin lawmakers tried in 2010 to recognize a microbe found in cheese, but never managed to pass the legislation.

HB2079 would adopt a bacterium called Nesiotobacter exalbescens as Hawaii’s official microbe.

In a report on the bill, the House Health Committee said that while microbes “are the most abundant organisms in Hawaii and on Earth,” the Nesiotobacter exalbescens has only been found in a very remote environment, “a hypersaline lake on Laysan atoll” in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The Health Committee said recognizing an official state microbe “will enhance awareness of microbiology and science, as well as stimulate interest in microbial discoveries and applications.”

The measure attracted unanimous support in committee hearings, although testimony came exclusively from microbiologists and other scientists from the University of Hawaii.

Perhaps the strongest support for the bill came from Dr. Stuart P. Donachie, the scientist who discovered the microbe in 2000.

“Expose everyone to microbes!”  Donachie told the Health Committee, stressing that he was speaking as an individual and that he has no commercial interest in Nesiotobacter exalbescens.

“Hawai’i can lead the way. Nesiotobacter exalbescens is Hawaii’s microbe. And it can be the first state microbe in the nation,” he said.

Most people have “negative feelings about microbes” because some of them cause disease, Donachie said.

But they “created and sustain our environment” and their “contributions to our health and the environment are often overlooked,” he continued.

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com