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Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek. 2012 Jan;101(1):45-54. doi: 10.1007/s10482-011-9663-1. Epub 2011 Nov 3.

Microbial systematics in the post-genomics era.

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Section of Microbial Pathogenesis, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06536, USA.


Microbial systematics and phylogeny should form the foundation and guiding light for a comprehensive understanding of different aspects of microbiology. However, there are many critical issues in microbial systematics that are currently not resolved. Some of these include: how to define and delimit a prokaryotic species; development of rationale criteria for the assignment of higher taxonomic ranks; understanding what unique properties distinguish species from different groups; and understanding the branching order and interrelationship among higher prokaryotic clades. The sequencing of genomes from large numbers of cultured as well as uncultured microbes covering prokaryotic diversity provides unique means to achieve these important objectives. Prokaryotic genomes are found to be very diverse and dynamic and horizontal gene transfers (HGTs) are indicated to have played important role in species/genome evolution. Although HGT adds a layer of complexity in terms of understanding the genomes and species evolution, it is contended that vast majority of genes and genetic characteristics that are distinctive characteristics of higher prokaryotic taxa are vertically inherited and based on them a solid foundation for microbial systematics can be developed. We describe two kinds of molecular markers consisting of conserved indels in protein sequences and whole proteins that are specific for different groups that are proving particularly valuable in defining different prokaryotic groups in clear molecular terms and in understanding their interrelationships. The genetic and biochemical studies on these taxa-specific molecular markers also open the way to discover novel biochemical and physiological characteristics that are unique properties of these groups.

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