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On the origin of prokaryotic "species": the taxonomy of halophilic Archaea

Author(s): DasSarma Priya | DasSarma Shiladitya

Journal: Saline Systems
ISSN 1746-1448

Volume: 4;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 5;
Date: 2008;
Original page

Abstract The consistent use of the taxonomic system of binomial nomenclature (genus and species) was first popularized by Linnaeus nearly three-hundred years ago to classify mainly plants and animals. His main goal was to give labels that would ensure that biologists could agree on which organism was under investigation. One-hundred fifty years later, Darwin considered the term species as one of convenience and not essentially different from variety. In the modern era, exploration of the world's niches together with advances in genomics have expanded the number of named species to over 1.8 million, including many microorganisms. However, even this large number excludes over 90% of microorganisms that have yet to be cultured or classified. In naming new isolates in the microbial world, the challenge remains the lack of a universally held and evenly applied standard for a species. The definition of species based on the capacity to form fertile offspring is not applicable to microorganisms and 70% DNA-DNA hybridization appears rather crude in light of the many completed genome sequences. The popular phylogenetic marker, 16S rRNA, is tricky for classification since it does not provide multiple characteristics or phenotypes used classically for this purpose. Using most criteria, agreement may usually be found at the genus level, but species level distinctions are problematic. These observations lend credence to the proposal that the species concept is flawed when applied to prokaryotes. In order to address this topic, we have examined the taxonomy of extremely halophilic Archaea, where the order, family, and even a genus designation have become obsolete, and the naming and renaming of certain species has led to much confusion in the scientific community.
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