Style tips for presenting scientific names of bacteria

Style tips for presenting scientific names of bacteria

Scientific names are labels for precise identification; they are 'keys' that can unlock vaults of information. Compare the kind of information that can be retrieved by typing the scientific name of an organism – instead of its common name – in the search box of a search engine, and you will realize that the analogy of a key is particularly appropriate.

An earlier article discussed some points of style related to scientific names of organisms in general whereas this article focuses on bacteria. Bacterial names are governed by the International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria.

Conjunction: It is useful to remember that, in general, the style for names of bacteria is closer to the style that governs names of plants than the style that governs names of animals [1]. For example, in plant names, when the names of authors are appended to the binomial, the conjunction and is used if there are two authors whereas in names of animals, the names of the two authors that follow the binomial are joined with the Latin conjunction et (or with the ampersand, or &). 

Subspecific taxa: A species may be divided into subspecies (the word is abbreviated to "subsp." but not printed in italics). The name of a subspecies is also a specific epithet and is printed in italics, as in Staphylococcus aureus subsp. aureus.

Bacterial taxonomy has yet other ranks or taxa below the level of a subspecies. These ranks include serovar, pathovar, and biovar. Whereas the abbreviation cv. (for cultivar, or cultivated variety) is no longer used with plant names, the abbreviation pv. (for pathovar) is permitted with bacterial names. (The code mentioned above does not cover subspecific taxa; the use of pv. is recommended by the International Society for Plant Pathology.)

Serovar is used to refer to serological variants, which differ in their behaviour or responses as antigens. The suffix -var, for variety, has replaced the older suffix -type [2].

A number of points related to style vary with specific groups. The AMA Manual of Style covers many of these points in detail [3].

Abbreviations: Incidentally, whether such abbreviations as subsp. and pv. should be followed by a dot is a matter of style: most style guides include the dot but the AMA Manual of Style dispenses with it.


[1] CSE, Style Manual Committee. 2014. Scientific Style and Format: the CSE manual for authors, editors, and publishers, 8th edn, p. 401. Wheat Ridge, Colorado, USA: Council of Science Editors. 722 pp.

[2] Piqueras M and Guerrero R. 2013. Bacteriological nomenclature, pp. 59–62 in Science Editor’s Handbook, 2nd edn. edited by P Smart, H Maisonneuve, and A Polderman. Redruth, Cornwall, UK: European Association of Science Editors. 231 pp.

[3] AMA. 2007. AMA Manual of Style: a guide for authors and editors, 10th edn., pp. 748–753. New York: Oxford University Press [and American Medical Association]. 1010 pp.

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