Proposing a State Microbe

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Last week I heard an interesting piece on NPR’s All Things Considered: Wisconsin may soon have a state microbe. A bill to designate Lactococcus lactis, a bacterium used in making cheese, as the state microbe has passed the Wisconsin Assembly and is now going to be voted by the state senate. If the bill passes, Wisconsin will be the first state to have an official microbe.

Well, why let Wisconsin have all the fun? Colorado already has a State Rock (Yule Marble), a State Dance (Square Dance), a State Reptile (Western Painted Turtle) and a State Tartan (see it here), so why not a State Microbe?

“What microbe?,” you might ask. Well, I’ve given it a lot of thought – and I know my suggestion is going to be controversial – but at this moment I would like to formally suggest that Colorado’s state microbe be … drumroll, please … Giardia lamblia.

Giardia lamblia

Giardia is a flagellated freshwater protozoan parasite found in almost every Colorado mountain stream that commonly infects humans, dogs, cats, birds, sheep and deer and other mammals. Infection with Giardia is often colloquially called “Beaver Fever,” and as many people can attest to, not very pretty.

I know what you’re all thinking. L. lactis makes sense for Wisconsin — the bacteria helps make cheese, and Wisconsin is known as the “Cheese State.” Do we really want to be known as the What-Giardia-Does-To-You-State (this is a family-friendly blog, so if you don’t already know what Giardia does, you can learn about it here)? Perhaps not, but I can’t think of a microbe more ubiquitously associated with Colorado. The first documented waterborn outbreak of Giardia was in Aspen, Colorado in 1965, and Colorado has had more outbreaks than any other state. It may not be the prettiest microbe, but it’s worked its way into our history, our hearts, and our intestines.

Of course, that’s just my vote for Colorado’s State Microbe. If you had the chance to choose, what microbe would make it to the top of your list to represent Colorado?

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5 Responses to “Proposing a State Microbe”


  1. 1 tburton1004 April 19, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    It has such a cute face!

  2. 2 Katie April 19, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    It looks like a face, doesn’t it? What seem like eyes are the microbe’s nuclei and karysomes, the mouth is made up of median bodies, and what sort of looks like a nose are the axonemes. I think there’s a whole mascot campaign that could happen around these guys.

  3. 3 Doug April 19, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    If I were to associate an ailment with Colorado it would be altitude sickness, perhaps more prevalent here than in any other state thanks to the widespread high elevations. However, I don’t know if it has a microbe basis. Another possibility would be Rocky Mountains spotted fever, carried by ticks and presumably having a microbe connection. It was first identified in the 1890s. Before that one often reads in the historical record of people becoming ill of “Mountain fever” and sometimes perishing. In other words, it’s been around a long time, unlike giardia, which is fairly new on the scene. I grew up in Montana and we always used to drink water right out of mountain streams. We never got sick and I heard of giardia for the first time in 1978 in Glacier National Park. I was on a hike led by a park ranger who told us of the potential bad outcome of drinking from streams, and then proceeded to dip a tin cup in a waterfall and gulp it down!

    I don’t know of any good microbes associated with Colorado, but there must be some.

  4. 4 kenya health review May 23, 2011 at 10:55 am

    If i was ever to propose a country (we’re not “united” like all you guys are, so let me not use state) microbe for Kenya, it”ll have to be anything but Giardia lamblia. No offense meant, but yes, its not a pleasant flagellate to have stuck up you duodenum.


  1. 1 The International Year of Biodiversity Wrap-Up « More to Explore Trackback on December 31, 2010 at 8:03 am
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