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Originally published Monday, June 13, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Algae gives professor a taste of immortality

Sometimes, algae can be the highest form of flattery. So it was for Diane Stoecker, a Maryland professor who studies aquatic creatures so...

The Washington Post

Sometimes, algae can be the highest form of flattery.

So it was for Diane Stoecker, a Maryland professor who studies aquatic creatures so small they might make a worm sneeze. During a 26-year career, Stoecker has won a few laurels: fellowships, grants, published papers.

But a scientific journal this month will reveal something bigger. Or, depending on your point of view, smaller.

"I tried not to be too excited," Stoecker said, "But I was thrilled."

A new species of one-celled alga, which spends its days munching on other tiny organisms off the coast of South Korea, had been named in her honor. Stoeckeria algicida, as it's called, eats by stabbing a tiny strawlike appendage into its victims' innards.

"Some wimp organism wasn't named after me," Stoecker said. "This a real tough cookie."

Stoecker said she helped mentor the lead scientist behind the discovery, Hae Jin Jeong of Seoul National University.

Newly discovered organisms are often named for their special attributes, their habitats, or for people influential in their fields. Before Stoecker, College Park, Md., biology professor Richard Highton was a somewhat reluctant namesake for Isospora hightoni, an intestinal parasite that lives in salamanders.

"I can't think of a worse thing to have named after you," Highton said, but he agreed to it anyway.

Stoecker is not so conflicted.

She said that she likes the idea of the name lasting through the ages and that she's looking forward to a memento from Jeong.

"He's sending me a T-shirt" with the organism's picture on it, she said.

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