[Taxacom] Drosophila melanogaster name change?

David Remsen (GBIF) dremsen at gbif.org
Wed Apr 14 02:22:57 CDT 2010

One of the comments in the Nature piece by David States provides a  
perspective on this:

"Y2K came and went with a whimper. This change unfortunately will not  
be so imperceptible. "Drosophila melanogaster", "Drosophila" and "DM"  
are so embedded in so many pieces of software that the consequences of  
this name change will be annoying scientists for years to come. This  
includes many applications that are "frozen alive"; databases and  
pieces of code written by a grad student or postdoc who has since  
moved on to other interests. The code is still actively used, but  
there is no one actively maintaining it, and no one to dig into the  
source code to find all the places were the term "Drosophila" is  
The change will also reverberate through other standards. For example,  
the US National Library of Medicine MeSH system has five different  
headings and thousands of substance names incorporating the word  
"Drosophila" (Drosophila, Drosophila proteins, etc.) and a formal  
process for proposing, vetting and promulgating changes to the MeSH.  
Change is not going to happen quickly.

If new scientific evidence (e.g. complete genome sequence) suggests  
that existing genus assignments need to be reassigned, the naming  
should reflect usage in broader world. There are more publications on  
melanogaster than there are on all of the other Drosophila species  
combined. melanogaster is de facto the type species for the Drosophila  
genus. If a new genus name is to be created, melanogaster should stay  
Drosophila melanogaster and other species renamed. This strategy may  
induce more changes within the taxonomic nomenclature, but in the  
broader world it will be MUCH less disruptive."

The case of being redirected to information on Pneumocystis jiroveci  
when one types Pneumocystis carinii wouldn't appear as straightforward  
as suggested either since P.  carinii remains as a distinct taxon.      
Nomenclatural synonymy is more amenable to this but only partially  
addresses the problem and there aren't easily accessible lists of  
nomenclatural synonyms, particularly for the animals.   Good coping  
strategies do help but we aren't quite there yet.   But, yes, some are  
working on this.

On Apr 13, 2010, at 11:45 PM, Stephen Thorpe wrote:

> Surely, all this fuss about a name change is unwarranted,  
> particularly in today's internet world. Maybe it would have been  
> more of a problem for D. melanogaster to have changed its name in  
> the pre-internet era? Surely, one of the main things that  
> bioinformatics people work on is how to cope with name changes? Even  
> the relatively unsophisticated (by bioinformatics standards)  
> Wikispecies can easily cope. If D. melanogaster changes name to  
> Sophophora melanogaster (or whatever) then somebody who types  
> Drosophila melanogaster into the search box will be redirected to  
> Sophophora melanogaster, and thus can easily find out the new name.  
> Name changes are a reality - the trick is to develop good coping  
> strategies ...
> ________________________________
> From: Kim van der Linde <kim at kimvdlinde.com>
> To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Sent: Wed, 14 April, 2010 7:32:19 AM
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Drosophila melanogaster name change?
> Richard,
> On 4/13/2010 12:17 PM, Richard Zander wrote:
>> I read way too much agreement (about paraphyly, survival of ancestors
>> after speciation, robust taxa, phylogenetics not being the end-all)  
>> in
>> what you say.
> I am sorry if I made you uncomfortable, I will see if I can find some
> disagreement with you.....
>> Are you a member of the Post-Phylogenetic Systematics
>> Society? Have you been taught the secret hand-shake? Have you paid  
>> your
>> (nominal) dues?
> LOL, maybe we have to start one. No, I had a decent taxonomic training
> when I did my masters (just imagine how hard I had to laugh when  
> someone
> tried to kick my legs from under me by telling me that I should take a
> decent course in taxonomics), but it is my nature not to adhere to the
> mainstream ideas (if I had done that, I would not have proposed to  
> split
> the genus in the first place) but think for myself.
> During my Masters, we had a semester long colloquium just on species
> concepts and how you could determine when something was a species.  
> That
> was when cladistics was still done with a software package called  
> Hennig
> ##. Together, it taught me is that each of the various species  
> concepts
> have their value, each in their proper context. I think the  
> phylogenetic
> species concept is much more valuable for phylocode than for rank  
> based
> taxonomy.
> The same problem that you have with phylogenetics, I have with
> traditional morphology based cladistics. It is very easy to rake up a
> lot of traits, run an analysis and find a single trait that is  
> dividing
> the species in two nice groups. Whether or not that trait is
> evolutionary relevant, that is often ignored. And that is in part the
> problem with Drosophila.
> The good thing in Drosophila is that the phylogenetic work actually  
> has
> a reasonable similarity with the evolutionary work that has been  
> carried
> out over the past decades.
> What we have now with Drosophila is the remnant of 18 decades of  
> fussing
> around with the genus. We can easily spend another decade or 5 to  
> figure
> out all the details for each and every species in the genus and the
> included genera before taking any action. I am convinced that the
> outcome is not going to be substantially different, other than that we
> can fill in many more details about obscure and rarely investigated
> species. The upcoming proposal to split the genus is in many ways a  
> very
> modest proposal (4 main (250+ species), some smaller (1-10 species)
> clades). I think a much more comprehensive revision, with some more  
> risk
> of making the wrong decisions would split the genus in 7 major clades
> (50+ species) and a lot of smaller clades (1-50 species). The main  
> thing
> this revision will do is to eliminate the Sophophora melanogaster
> problem, which I think is a good thing.
>> I largely disagree that different genetics make different taxa. I  
>> think
>> that different evolutionary directions are, yes, mediated by  
>> genetics,
>> but different genetics do not necessarily, or even usually, imply
>> speciation processes. We need more information about evolution than  
>> the
>> genetic element.
> Agreed, although I am personally okay with deciding that two clades  
> are
> different species if the genetic difference is large enough not in
> absolute terms, but comparatively with regard to the variation within
> the two clades.
> Regards,
> Kim
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