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Showing posts from August, 2012

The utility of bacterial nomenclature

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the "culture" behind bacterial nomenclature.  Of course there are the extremes: Shigella and Escherichia coli are classified as different genera but often the phenotype used to characterize these strains is horizontally transmitted (a plasmid harboring pathogenicity determinants) [1].  Then you've got the case of Wolbachia pipientis, the bug inside a bug that my lab currently investigates.  Researchers in the field have decided not to name each strain found in each distinct host, regardless of the divergence between strains [2] (but see [3] for an interesting counterpoint).  Obviously, the species concept in bacteria is extremely difficult to define and has been reviewed at length elsewhere [4-6].  What is absolutely true is that the markers we use to characterize diversity in the environment (be it the rRNA, core proteins, or enzymes) are simply that – markers.  They do not tell us whether or not these organisms are similar in …