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Frank Zappa-Your-Zits: Pimple Bacteria Named After Rock Iconoclast

Frank Zappa, zit, bacteria, P. acnes Zappae

Microbiologist Andrea Campisano keeps a Frank Zappa quote on his lab computer. The screensaver text reads: “If you end up with a boring, miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.” As USA Today reports, fellow researcher Omar Rota-Stabelli saw the quote while they were studying a type of bacteria that causes acne in humans but had turned up on grapevines. For a variety of non-dermatological reasons, the scientists named the bug after the late Mothers of Invention leader.

Propionibacterium acnes type Zappae was born. Rota-Stabelli described the researchers’ response to their initial discovery as “Zappa-style,” because instead of dismissing the grape bacteria as a mistake “we thought outside the box, worked on it, and found something very, very unexpected.” There’s also a parallel to Zappa’s pioneering, genre-shifting appraoch — as Campisano told the Los Angeles Times, “This is the first time it’s been found that a microorganism can switch from a human to a plant.” Also, “Zappa” means “hoe” in Italian. The agricultural implement, you guys.

The experts assure us that while P. acne is common in humans, the grapevine variety, which they estimate crossed over to plants roughly 8,000 or 9,000 years ago, is no threat — you can be beasting off that Riesling without worrying it’ll give you boils. And lucky for the scientists, Zappa’s famously litigious widow, Gail Zappa, is cool with the pimply apellation. She told USA Today, “For me this is just an extension of Frank’s means of gluing things together, making sense of the universe.” Perhaps the most shocking discovery of all: There are still people who use screensavers. Who knows what scientific truths we could’ve unlocked if we had kept our copies of After Dark? We could’ve cured cancer! Or at least popped a few zits. As Zappa himself once said, “The rock’n’roll business is pretty absurd, but the world of serious music is much worse.”