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The evolution of ecological tolerance in prokaryotes.

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Botanical Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.
Harvard U, Cambridge, MA, Botanical Museum


The ecological ranges of Archaeobacteria and Eubacteria are constrained by a requirement for liquid water and the physico-chemical stability limits of biomolecules, but within this broad envelope, prokaryotes have evolved adaptations that permit them to tolerate a remarkable spectrum of habitats. Laboratory experiments indicate that prokaryotes can adapt rapidly to novel environmental conditions, yet geological studies suggest early diversification and long-term stasis within the prokaryotic kingdoms. These apparently contradictory perspectives can be reconciled by understanding that, in general, rates and patterns of prokaryotic evolution reflect the developmental history of the Earth's surface environments. Our understanding of modern microbial ecology provides a lens through which our accumulating knowledge of physiology, molecular phylogeny and the Earth's history can be integrated and focussed on the phenomenon of prokaryotic evolution.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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