Making biology easier

Dr David Gwynne-Evans, CEO of CasaBio

Do you know the meaning of Leucospermum hypophyllocarpodendron? Do you like puzzles or challenges? To facilitate learning plant and animal names and to make biology easier and more interesting, Project Bety (Biological ETYmologies) aims to link every scientific name to its Greek or Latin etymology.

CasaBio (casabio.org) is a non-profit organisation that is developing a citizen science platform for documenting our flora and fauna for conservation, education and research purposes. Project Bety has been developed by CasaBio to allow you to contribute your knowledge of word-origins for the long-term benefit of others.

But what if you don’t know the meaning? We have provided three handy tools to help the detective in you figure it out. It’s so brilliant and efficient, that just two CasaBio staff have matched most of the 43 000 etymologies to the names for all sub-Saharan plants. But we would like your help with the other 57 000… before we tackle the names of the world.

We’ve had amazing contributions so far to provide examples: classics expert Prof Rodney Edgecombe provided etymologies for all 2 300 Cape Peninsula plant species and Hugh Clarke provided etymologies for every plant genus of South Africa from his comprehensive book that still has copies available.

It’s a pretty addictive process and is a healthy five-minute break from work. It’s also suitable as a small task for classes of scholars or students. So if you want to get involved or find out more, reach out to me, David Gwynne-Evans, on capebio@gmail.com. You’ll need internet connectivity through a desktop or laptop computer, though it is possible from a smartphone or iPad. Salve et salvete!