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 a