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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Feb 19;105(7):2504-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0712205105. Epub 2008 Feb 12.

Identifying the fundamental units of bacterial diversity: a paradigm shift to incorporate ecology into bacterial systematics.

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  • 1Departments of Biology and Mathematics and Computer Science, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT 06459, USA.


The central questions of bacterial ecology and evolution require a method to consistently demarcate, from the vast and diverse set of bacterial cells within a natural community, the groups playing ecologically distinct roles (ecotypes). Because of a lack of theory-based guidelines, current methods in bacterial systematics fail to divide the bacterial domain of life into meaningful units of ecology and evolution. We introduce a sequence-based approach ("ecotype simulation") to model the evolutionary dynamics of bacterial populations and to identify ecotypes within a natural community, focusing here on two Bacillus clades surveyed from the "Evolution Canyons" of Israel. This approach has identified multiple ecotypes within traditional species, with each predicted to be an ecologically distinct lineage; many such ecotypes were confirmed to be ecologically distinct, with specialization to different canyon slopes with different solar exposures. Ecotype simulation provides a long-needed natural foundation for microbial ecology and systematics.

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