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Environ Microbiol. 2012 Feb;14(2):347-55. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2011.02668.x. Epub 2011 Dec 12.

Bacterial species may exist, metagenomics reveal.

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  • 1School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, USA.


Whether or not bacterial species exist remains an unresolved issue of paramount theoretical as well as practical consequences. Here we review and synthesize the findings emerging from metagenomic surveys of natural microbial populations and argue that microbial communities are predominantly organized in genetically and ecologically discernible populations, which possess the attributes expected for species. These sequence-discrete populations represent a major foundation for beginning high-resolution investigations on how populations are organized, interact, and evolve within communities. We also attempt to reconcile these findings with those of previous studies that reported indiscrete species and a genetic continuum within bacterial taxa and discuss the implications for the current bacterial species definition.

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