Zit bacteria found in grapes named after Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention, Dezember 1971, Musikhalle Hamburg
Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention, Dezember 1971, Musikhalle Hamburg
Heinrich Klaffs/Flickr

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Science can be weird sometimes. So can Frank Zappa.

Researchers with Italy's Edmund Mach Foundation recently named a newly discovered bacteria after the late musician. They said they were fans of the singer who once sang about "sand blasted zits."

The microbe, dubbed P. acnes Zappae, evolved from the same bug that causes humans to break out in acne.

And here's the really odd part: it was found living in grapes.

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"It was hugely unexpected," said lead researcher Andrea Campisano.

Scientists had never before encountered a bacteria that adapted from humans to plants.

When P. acnes infects a human, it enters the pores, clogging them up and causing zits. But Campisano says, this grape-version doesn't give the plant pimples, in fact it seems to live harmoniously with its new host.

"The plants are perfectly healthy," he said.

He suspects all grapes around the world carry this microbe. His team studied the molecular evolution of the bacteria and found it likely jumped from humans to grapes around 7,000 years ago.

“That’s about when we started domesticating grape vines," Campisano noted, suggesting that farmers touching the plant inadvertently passed their acne-causing microbes to their crops.

Campisano doesn't know how this bacteria thrives in grapes or why it spread in the first place, but his team plans to continue studying the subject.

The grape-zit connection was discovered as researchers were trying to better understand microbes living in plants.

Campisano says he hopes one day, grape farmers can apply pro-biotic treatments to their crops to keep them healthy instead of using pesticides and other chemicals.

The Zappa connection

The researchers decided to name their discovery after Frank Zappa for several reasons.

Zappa's father, like the scientists, was from Italy. The surname, Zappa, also means "hoe" in Italian, giving the name agrarian roots.

Campisano says while conducting research he also had this Zappa quote on his computer desktop:

"If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television... then you deserve it."

He says it reminded his team to think outside the box, a sentiment that helped them discover something as odd as a human bacteria living in common grapes.