In his message of 25 Feb 97 ( "Arabidopsis name"), Fernando Migliaccio asks
whether we should or should not capitalize "arabidopsis." He writes that "..=
the ISPMB established that the name arabidopsis is vulgar, like tomato and
sunflower, and thus it should not be written capitalized and in italics."
Migliaccio shouldn't blame the ISPMB; it's my fault. As Editor of the PLANT
MOLECULAR BIOLOGY REPORTER, I wrote a series of editorials on scientific
writing; one of these was "To Italicize or Not?" An ASCII version, sans ital=
I still think it makes sense. So in the REPORTER "arabidopsis" will remain l=
case and roman, at least while I remain Editor (capitalized, roman).
Editor, PLANT MOLECULAR BIOLOGY REPORTER
Piscataway, NJ 08855-0759, USA
price at mbcl.rutgers.edu
TO ITALICIZE OR NOT?
Anyone exposed to introductory biology knows that Latin binomials are
italicized, the first letter of the genus capitalized and the species lower
case: Escherichia coli, Drosophila melanogaster, Arabidopsis thaliana =8A We=
increasingly in scientific journals, however, the unitalicized terms
"Drosophila" or "Arabidopsis." It is clear from the context that writers are=
referring to the genus as a whole, but to their familiar species, D.
melanogaster or A. thaliana. What is happening?
The favorite weed of molecular biologists has become so commonplace in scien=
writing that the Latin formalism can be discarded. "A. thaliana" doesn't rol=
off the tongue as smoothly as "E. coli," so "arabidopsis" has simply been
incorporated into ordinary English--at least, ordinary scientific English.
Other than for taxonomy, the rule is that foreign words are italicized in
English: Weltanschauung, de gustibus, nom de plume, =8A There is ample prece=
however, for the incorporation of foreign words into English, whereupon ital=
melt into plain roman: alter ego, chic, honcho, pizza, siesta, troika =8A
We need not look beyond the world of plants for more examples: Starting with=
we have abelia, acacia, agapanthus, ajuga, aloe, alyssum, amaranthus, amaryl=
anemone, aster =8A Each of these flowers are known by ordinary English=
borrowed from the genus, and each familiar to every gardener. All English
speakers are equally familiar with gladiolus, iris, and zinnia. Scientists (=
most gardeners) know, however, that a reference to genus and species still g=
the full treatment: as in Gladiolus nanus, Iris danfordiae, and Zinnia elega=
It is equally appropriate, therefore, to write "petunia" or "Petunia hybrida=
but note that "petunia" in ordinary English is in lower case; it is not
Welcoming our favorite weed into scientific English, the REPORTER henceforth
will print its name as "arabidopsis." On the advice of our consultant in Gre=
we offer no recommendations on its pronunciation.
PMBR 12(4):300-301 (1994)