Send to

Choose Destination
Mol Biol Evol. 2003 Jan;20(1):93-104.

Evolution of the bacterial species Lactobacillus delbrueckii: a partial genomic study with reflections on prokaryotic species concept.

Author information

Nestlé Research Centre, Nestec Ltd., Lausanne, Switzerland.


The species Lactobacillus delbrueckii consists at present of three subspecies, delbrueckii, lactis and bulgaricus, showing a high level of DNA-DNA hybridization similarity but presenting markedly different traits related to distinct ecological adaptation. The internal genetic heterogeneity of the bacterial species L. delbrueckii was analyzed. Phenotypic and several genetic traits were investigated for 61 strains belonging to this species. These included 16S rDNA sequence mutations, expression of beta-galactosidase and of the cell wall-anchored protease, the characterization of the lactose operon locus and of the sequence of lacR gene, galactose metabolism, and the distribution of insertion sequences. The high genetic heterogeneity of taxa was confirmed by every trait investigated: the lac operon was completely deleted in the subsp. delbrueckii, different mutation events in the repressor gene of the operon led to a constitutive expression of lacZ in the subsp. bulgaricus. Structural differences in the same genetic locus were probably due to the presence of different IS elements in the flanking regions. The different expression of the cell wall-anchored protease, constitutive in the subsp. bulgaricus, inducible in the subsp. lactis, and absent in the subsp. delbrueckii was also a consequence of mutations at the gene level. The galT gene for galactose metabolism was found only in the subsp. lactis, while no specific amplification product was detected in the other two subspecies. All these data, together with the absence of a specific IS element, ISL6, from the major number of strains belonging to the subsp. bulgaricus, confirmed a deep internal heterogeneity among the three subspecies. Moreover, this evidence and the directional mutations found in the 16S rDNA sequences suggested that, of the three subspecies, L. delbrueckii subsp. lactis is the taxon closer to the ancestor. Limitations of the current prokaryotic species definition were also discussed, based on presented evidences. Our results indicate the need for an accurate investigation of internal heterogeneity of bacterial species. This study has consequences on the prokaryotic species concept, since genomic flexibility of prokaryotes collides with a stable classification, necessary from a scientific and applied point of view.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Silverchair Information Systems
Loading ...
Support Center