Article

What are Bacterial Species?

Department of Biology, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut 06459-0170, USA.
Annual Review of Microbiology (Impact Factor: 13.02). 02/2002; 56(1):457-87. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.micro.56.012302.160634
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Bacterial systematics has not yet reached a consensus for defining the fundamental unit of biological diversity, the species. The past half-century of bacterial systematics has been characterized by improvements in methods for demarcating species as phenotypic and genetic clusters, but species demarcation has not been guided by a theory-based concept of species. Eukaryote systematists have developed a universal concept of species: A species is a group of organisms whose divergence is capped by a force of cohesion; divergence between different species is irreversible; and different species are ecologically distinct. In the case of bacteria, these universal properties are held not by the named species of systematics but by ecotypes. These are populations of organisms occupying the same ecological niche, whose divergence is purged recurrently by natural selection. These ecotypes can be discovered by several universal sequence-based approaches. These molecular methods suggest that a typical named species contains many ecotypes, each with the universal attributes of species. A named bacterial species is thus more like a genus than a species.

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