BYU alumnus names newly discovered nematode after former professor

Feb 11, 2024, 8:01 PM | Updated: 8:04 pm

Brigham Young University Professor Byron Adams shows off a picture of Steinemema adamsi,a nematode ...

Brigham Young University Professor Byron Adams shows off a picture of Steinemema adamsi,a nematode his former student discovered and named after him (BYU video)

(BYU video)

PROVO — Anyone who has watched “Spongebob Squarepants” may have a negative perception of nematodes, the wormlike creatures that descend on the Krusty Krab or Spongebob’s house and, well, eat them and anything in their sight.

But we all know the classic early-2000s Nickelodeon cartoon isn’t exactly true to life under or above the sea, and it was an honor when a Brigham Young University alumnus discovered a new species of one of the microscopic worms and named it after his professor at Brigham Young University.

Adler Dillman said he didn’t know anything about nematodes until he met biology professor Byron Adams in 2003. Dillman, now chairman of the Department of Nematology at the University of California, Riverside, had the opportunity to describe a new nematode and felt it was fitting to name it after his worm-loving mentor.

“If there’s somebody who loves nematodes more than Byron, I haven’t met them yet,” Dillman said.

Adams was ecstatic to have a new species of nematode become his namesake and said the insect-killing Steinernema adamsi is the “coolest thing ever.”

“You could name it after anything in the world, and you want to name it after me? That’s an incredible honor,” Adams said in a video.

Nematodes are microscopic roundworms that live all over the planet, from the tops of mountains to the bottoms of oceans.

The study of nematodes

Adams first started studying nematodes when he was an undergrad at BYU and has traveled all over, finding them in the desert of North America to cold, dry areas of Antarctica.

“They are the most abundant animal on the planet. I guess I love nematodes so much because they sustain life on our planet,” Adams said.

Steinernema adamsi is part of a group of nematodes that are beneficial to humans because they infect and kill insect pests such as fleas and gnats. Some types of nematodes are even available for purchase as pest control.

The worms crawl inside an insect, defecate highly pathogenic bacteria into its blood and combine with that bacteria to kill the host, explains a press release from BYU.

Dillman discovered the worm during field research in Thailand. While he doesn’t yet know the specific insect it hosts, Dillman believes the discovery can be useful in everyday lives and help biologists learn more about the species.

Adams has mentored more than a hundred students in researching nematodes, and Dillman followed in his footsteps of loving the tiny creatures. Dillman said the mentoring he received from Adams, including a research trip to Antarctica, changed the trajectory of his career.

Adams said Dillman is doing “incredibly challenging” work on the nematode research and he is so proud of him.

“I love seeing my former students on all of these other campuses everywhere else where they can be a force for good in students’ lives,” Adams said.

Dillman said one of the things he is most proud of that Adams taught him is the importance of including students in the work. Now as a professor, Dillman continues that in his own lab.

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BYU alumnus names newly discovered nematode after former professor