From Gizmodo UK:
“It’s 1758, the Wi-Fi is shocking and you’re a scientist who’s just made an incredible discovery. A new species, new organ, new kind of coat hanger, it doesn’t matter, it’s new to science and it’s all yours. So, what do you name it? After yourself? Too vain. After your dog? Interesting choice, but you can surely do better. This discovery is crying out to be named after something incredible, something cool like a Rockstar, a Hollywood actor or an animated sci-fi character; something that doesn’t exist in 1758… […]
But fast forward nearly 300 years and you’re spoilt for choice. From fantasy foes to superheroes, science fiction spaceships to zombies, the 2018 pop culture buffet offers unlimited inspiration for any sci-fi savvy scientist. Take Yoda1, for example. Back in 2015, a group of American scientists were looking for a chemical that could open the Piezo1 ion channel, a miniature gateway that lets material in and out of cells. After creating and testing millions of compounds, they finally found one that worked: a tiny chemical that could force open the ion channel, Yoda1. Noting its diminutive size and gifted ability to ‘use the force’, it would have been criminal to name it anything else. […]
And sci-fi properties don’t come much bigger than Star Wars. A genre headliner since 1977, this operatic space saga has inspired more than just the odd ion channel agonist. Back in May 2005, just as Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith was hitting cinemas, a paper was published on an electron transfer triad compound, composed of two zinc naphthalocyanines and a fullerene molecule. What was this studious compound christened? The Star Wars Tie Fighter Ship, of course. And you don’t need to know your Bothans from your Banthas to understand why:
Type in a Star Wars glossary to Elsevier and you’ll soon see much more of George Lucas’s lexicon spread across the world of science. There’s the overt, like Jedi1, a protein that helps remove dead cell matter – in one speech from Episode 3, Yoda himself tells Anakin Skywalker that “death is a natural part of life,”. And then there’s the more oblique, like OB-1, a protein that signals fat production. Maybe JABA-1 was taken.
And moving beyond basic compounds, a whole host of living chemicals owe their namesake to a galaxy far, far away, too. There’s Agathidium vaderi, a black beetle named for its shiny, Darth Vadar-like head, Wockia chewbacca, a large, furry moth, and the Han solo trilobite, which was actually named as part of a dare by the discoverer’s friends.
But is there a bigger point to all of this nerdy nomenclature? By naming chemicals and creatures after fictional characters, are scientists achieving something more meaningful? Perhaps even that fabled, just-out-of-reach reward – whisper it – recognition?
Earlier this year, a British research team generated and named an analogue for the Yoda1 molecule. Designed as an antagonist, this compound inhibited Yoda1 and stopped it from forcing open the Piezo1 ion channel. Its name? Dooku1.
As portrayed by the late actor (and former Second World War spy) Christopher Lee, Count Dooku is the primary villain of the second (and also fifth…) Star Wars film, Attach of the Clones. At the climax of the film, he battles his former mentor, Yoda, in a spectacular lightsabre-heavy duel that if not already immortalised on film, is now enshrined in this infinitesimal fight between sub-cellular proteins – like a nanoscopic Comic-con.
“We named our molecule Dooku1 because it didn’t activate the protein, but competed with Yoda1,” explains Kevin Cuthbertson, PhD student and member of the Dooku1 research team at the University of Leeds. “My supervisor, who hasn’t seen Star Wars, Googled who competes with Yoda and found their fight from Episode 2. So we’re just keeping the Yoda1 joke alive, really.”
“It’s just quite funny,” he adds. “It makes a change from naming molecules after lab book numbers, and it definitely makes it easier to communicate the work to people outside of the field.” […]”