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Systematic and Applied Microbiology

Past and future species definitions for Bacteria and Archaea

Ramon Rosselló-Móra, Rudolf Amann

Marine Microbiology Group, Department of Ecology and Marine Resources, Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA, CSIC-UIB), E-07190 Esporles, Illes Balears, Spain.


Species is the basic unit of biological diversity. However, among the different microbiological disciplines there is an important degree of disagreement as to what this unit may be. In this minireview, we argue that the main point of disagreement is the definition (i.e. the way species are circumscribed by means of observable characters) rather than the concept (i.e. the idea of what a species may be as a unit of biodiversity, the meaning of the patterns of recurrence observed in nature, and the why of their existence). Taxonomists have defined species by means of genetic and expressed characters that ensure the members of the unit are monophyletic, and exhibit a large degree of genomic and phenotypic coherence. The new technologies allowing high-throughput data acquisition are expected to improve future classifications significantly and will lead to database-based taxonomy centered on portable and interactive data. Future species descriptions of Bacteria and Archaea should include a high quality genome sequence of at least the type strain as an obligatory requirement, just as today an almost full-length 16S rRNA gene sequence must be provided. Serious efforts are needed in order to re-evaluate the major guidelines for standard descriptions.

Keywords: Species concept; Species definition; Genomics.

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