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Dissing a loaded label for some unicellular life

Prominent biologist calls ‘prokaryote’ outdated term

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1:53pm, March 27, 2009

Norman Pace has a problem with prokaryotes.

It’s not that Pace has anything against the organisms themselves. The microbiologist and RNA scientist from the University of Colorado at Boulder has made a career of studying microorganisms. It’s the term prokaryote that he doesn’t like. At the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in February, he said he wants to see the word abolished.

Prokaryotes are unicellular organisms, including bacteria and archaea, that don’t encase their DNA in a nucleus and do not contain membrane-bound organelles. The very name prokaryote implies that the microbes are precursors to eukaryotes —organisms that do wrap their genetic material in a nucleus and do have the organelles.

But not being something or not having certain features is not a scientific definition for what an organism is, Pace says. And the part about prokaryotes giving rise to eukaryotes? It’s wrong, he says.

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