Tuesday, September 7, 2010


I know it's not a topic most of us want to dwell on, but it's been in the news recently and set me wondering. Why does the name sound like it means "little feminine salmon" when as far as I know, it has nothing to do with the valiant and selfless river climbing fish? I don't even know if it's a bacteria or what exactly.

According to the New Yorker, it used to be the case that salmonella was only found on the outside of eggs, but now apparently it's found it's way within. Perhaps I can find out a little about that transition as well...

Okay, the etymology is a bit of a let down. Salmonella is the name for one of several rod-shaped bacteria, and it takes its name simply from one Daniel Elmer Salmon, an American pathologist who studied animal disease. It was his assistant Theobald Smith, not he, who discovered the bacterium and named it in Salmon's honor.

Call me crazy, but this is the kind of honor I would happily forego.

So how does the salmonella get inside the egg? Here I was thinking somehow along the line of microscopic boring tools, but of course the answer is obvious, once you've heard it, as I did here. The salmonella is present in the ovaries of otherwise healthy looking hens and contaminates the eggs inside the hen before the shell has even formed.

Tricky little buggers, huh? Here's another item about their fiendish nature. According to Maggie Koerth-Baker over at LiveScience.com, salmonella uses an inhibiting protein called AvrA to lure your body into thinking it's not under attack, meanwhile biding it's time in your intestines until it's multiplied into a formidable force. Only then does it punch throught your intestinal walls and wreak havoc.

As Dr. Jun Sun says in this article, "This changes the way we look at bacteria. We're beginning to realize that salmonella is a creature that has existed many years longer than us and they have skills we don't understand fully. It's trickier than we thought."

I do have to say that the coolest site I found in the course of my websurfing for this is one for giant plush microbes.Take a look at salmonella:

Come on, now--what's not to like?


  1. Ohhh, love the plush toys. My mom is a bit of a hypochondriac, maybe that would be a good Christmas present...or is that too cheeky??

    That's also interesting as to how the salmonella gets into the egg. I have to wonder how long that's been happening and we didn't even know it.

  2. Well, she's your mom, but I think it might be fun. Just don't make it the only thing you give her...

  3. Seana

    You know the way Cinderella's real name was just Ella...are you sure it wasn't just an ordinary girl who had to work in her wicked step mother's fish gutting business?

  4. Yeah, really I was kind of hoping that, vile as its effects are, the creature would have a kind of feminine charm when viewed objectively. But Daniel Elmer Salmon lacks that somehow

    Wonder what kind of carriage she'd have ridden in to the ball, though?

  5. What if Salman Rushdie had followed Nigel Lawson's idea to call his daughter a feminine version of his name? Then she'd be called ... ba ddah!

  6. Paul, for a second I read that as Nigella Lawson and thought that that was an awfully odd thing for a chef to say even in jest.

    Without the other associations it would actually be sort of pretty.

    I have never known how to write that ba ddha. Thanks.