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      Defining bacterial species in the genomic era: insights from the genus Acinetobacter

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          Abstract

          Background

          Microbial taxonomy remains a conservative discipline, relying on phenotypic information derived from growth in pure culture and techniques that are time-consuming and difficult to standardize, particularly when compared to the ease of modern high-throughput genome sequencing. Here, drawing on the genus Acinetobacter as a test case, we examine whether bacterial taxonomy could abandon phenotypic approaches and DNA-DNA hybridization and, instead, rely exclusively on analyses of genome sequence data.

          Results

          In pursuit of this goal, we generated a set of thirteen new draft genome sequences, representing ten species, combined them with other publically available genome sequences and analyzed these 38 strains belonging to the genus. We found that analyses based on 16S rRNA gene sequences were not capable of delineating accepted species. However, a core genome phylogenetic tree proved consistent with the currently accepted taxonomy of the genus, while also identifying three misclassifications of strains in collections or databases. Among rapid distance-based methods, we found average-nucleotide identity (ANI) analyses delivered results consistent with traditional and phylogenetic classifications, whereas gene content based approaches appear to be too strongly influenced by the effects of horizontal gene transfer to agree with previously accepted species.

          Conclusion

          We believe a combination of core genome phylogenetic analysis and ANI provides an appropriate method for bacterial species delineation, whereby bacterial species are defined as monophyletic groups of isolates with genomes that exhibit at least 95% pair-wise ANI. The proposed method is backwards compatible; it provides a scalable and uniform approach that works for both culturable and non-culturable species; is faster and cheaper than traditional taxonomic methods; is easily replicable and transferable among research institutions; and lastly, falls in line with Darwin’s vision of classification becoming, as far as is possible, genealogical.

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          Most cited references45

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          Analyzing the mosaic structure of genes.

          Some genes in prokaryotes consist of a mosaic of regions derived from different ancestors by horizontal gene transfer. A method is described for demonstrating the statistical significance of such mosaic structure and for locating the crossover points separating different regions.
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            The bacterial species definition in the genomic era.

            The bacterial species definition, despite its eminent practical significance for identification, diagnosis, quarantine and diversity surveys, remains a very difficult issue to advance. Genomics now offers novel insights into intra-species diversity and the potential for emergence of a more soundly based system. Although we share the excitement, we argue that it is premature for a universal change to the definition because current knowledge is based on too few phylogenetic groups and too few samples of natural populations. Our analysis of five important bacterial groups suggests, however, that more stringent standards for species may be justifiable when a solid understanding of gene content and ecological distinctiveness becomes available. Our analysis also reveals what is actually encompassed in a species according to the current standards, in terms of whole-genome sequence and gene-content diversity, and shows that this does not correspond to coherent clusters for the environmental Burkholderia and Shewanella genera examined. In contrast, the obligatory pathogens, which have a very restricted ecological niche, do exhibit clusters. Therefore, the idea of biologically meaningful clusters of diversity that applies to most eukaryotes may not be universally applicable in the microbial world, or if such clusters exist, they may be found at different levels of distinction.
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              Ribosomal multilocus sequence typing: universal characterization of bacteria from domain to strain

              No single genealogical reconstruction or typing method currently encompasses all levels of bacterial diversity, from domain to strain. We propose ribosomal multilocus sequence typing (rMLST), an approach which indexes variation of the 53 genes encoding the bacterial ribosome protein subunits (rps genes), as a means of integrating microbial genealogy and typing. As with multilocus sequence typing (MLST), rMLST employs curated reference sequences to identify gene variants efficiently and rapidly. The rps loci are ideal targets for a universal characterization scheme as they are: (i) present in all bacteria; (ii) distributed around the chromosome; and (iii) encode proteins which are under stabilizing selection for functional conservation. Collectively, the rps loci exhibit variation that resolves bacteria into groups at all taxonomic and most typing levels, providing significantly more resolution than 16S small subunit rRNA gene phylogenies. A web-accessible expandable database, comprising whole-genome data from more than 1900 bacterial isolates, including 28 draft genomes assembled de novo from the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) sequence read archive, has been assembled. The rps gene variation catalogued in this database permits rapid and computationally non-intensive identification of the phylogenetic position of any bacterial sequence at the domain, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species and strain levels. The groupings generated with rMLST data are consistent with current nomenclature schemes and independent of the clustering algorithm used. This approach is applicable to the other domains of life, potentially providing a rational and universal approach to the classification of life that is based on one of its fundamental features, the translation mechanism.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                BMC Microbiol
                BMC Microbiol
                BMC Microbiology
                BioMed Central
                1471-2180
                2012
                23 December 2012
                : 12
                : 302
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Institute of Microbiology and Infection, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, B15 2TT, UK
                Article
                1471-2180-12-302
                10.1186/1471-2180-12-302
                3556118
                23259572
                3f3fc796-3ea5-44ec-ad09-ffd2c2415d06
                Copyright ©2012 Chan et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Categories
                Research Article

                Microbiology & Virology
                genome-based taxonomy,bacteria,sequence-based analysis,whole-genome data

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