State legislators like to claim official symbols for nearly everything. There are state birds, state dinosaurs, even a state question (New Mexico's “Red or green?”). The South Arkansas Vine Ripe Pink Tomato is both Arkansas's official fruit and its vegetable. Nebraska’s official drink is water. And Maryland's official state sport is jousting, while its state exercise is walking.
But state pride may have officially gone too far with the latest trend: symbolic state microbes.
Last year, Oregon became the first state to recognize its microbe, brewer’s yeast. Wisconsin almost did it in 2010 with Lactococcus lactis, the bacteria vital in producing cheddar cheese. And there’s been talk of Los Angeles honoring a “city microbe”: Clostridium botulinum, or Botox.
But not all microbe choices are so cut and dry.
In Hawaii, a battle has brewed over which bacterium to ordain. In one corner, Rep. James Kunane Tokioka introduced HB293 in 2013 to make Flavobacterium akiainvivens the first-ever official state microbe. It was deferred to this year’s legislative session, where it found competition in a new bill, Senator Glenn Wakai’s SB3124, which called for vibrio fischeri to the be the state microorganism. (Oh no he didn’t!)
F. akiainvivens (or Ko‘ohonua ‘ili akia, in Hawaiian) was discovered on Oahu by a high school student and, in an artist's rendering, looks like a delicious Cheeto. V. fischeri, on the other hand, is a bacteria that facilitates bioluminescence in the Hawaiian bobtail squid -- awesome to see, no doubt, but it's also found in almost every ocean.
In the end, it seems Hawaii residents will have to wait yet another day to know and celebrate their official state microbe. Despite Tokioka's arduous defense of F. akiainvivens, the legislators couldn't reach an agreement and put the bills on a shelf, presumably next to a lot of other disgusting germs.