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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2004 Aug;70(8):4831-9.

Ecological significance of microdiversity: identical 16S rRNA gene sequences can be found in bacteria with highly divergent genomes and ecophysiologies.

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Institut für Chemie und Biologie des Meeres, Universität Oldenburg, Oldenburg, Germany.


A combination of cultivation-based methods with a molecular biological approach was used to investigate whether planktonic bacteria with identical 16S rRNA gene sequences can represent distinct eco- and genotypes. A set of 11 strains of Brevundimonas alba were isolated from a bacterial freshwater community by conventional plating or by using a liquid most-probable-number (MPN) dilution series. These strains had identical 16S rRNA gene sequences and represented the dominant phylotype in the plateable fraction, as well as in the highest positive dilutions of the MPN series. However, internally transcribed spacer and enterobacterial repetitive intergenic consensus PCR fingerprinting analyses, as well as DNA-DNA hybridization analyses, revealed great genetic diversity among the 11 strains. Each strain utilized a specific combination of 59 carbon substrates, and the niche overlap indices were low, suggesting that each strain occupied a different ecological niche. In dialysis cultures incubated in situ, each strain had a different growth rate and cell yield. We thus demonstrated that the B. alba strains represent distinct populations with genetically determined adaptations and probably occupy different ecological niches. Our results have implications for assessment of the diversity and biogeography of bacteria and increase the perception of natural diversity beyond the level of 16S rRNA gene sequences.

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