Relevance of phenotypic information for the taxonomy of not-yet-cultured microorganisms
Publication date: Available online 24 August 2018
Source: Systematic and Applied Microbiology
Author(s): Jörg Overmann, Sixing Huang, Ulrich Nübel, Richard L. Hahnke, Brian J. Tindall
To date, far less than 1% of the estimated global species of Bacteria and Archaea have been described and their names validly published. Aside from these quantitative limitations, our understanding of phenotypic and functional diversity of prokaryotes is also highly biased as not a single species has been described for 85 of the 118 phyla that are currently recognized. Due to recent advances in sequencing technology and capacity, metagenomic datasets accumulate at an increasing speed and new bacterial and archaeal genome sequences become available at a faster rate than newly described species. The growing gap between the diversity of Bacteria and Archaea held in pure culture and that detected by molecular methods has led to the proposal to establish a formal nomenclature for not-yet-cultured taxa primarily based on sequence information. According to this proposal, the concept of Candidatus species would be extended to groups of closely related genome sequences and their names validly published following established rules of bacterial nomenclature. The corresponding sequences would be deposited in public databases as the type. The suggested alterations of the International Code of Nomenclature of Prokaryotes raise concerns regarding (1) the reliability and stability of nomenclature, (2) the technological and conceptual limitations as well as availability of reference genomes, (3) the information content of in silico functional predictions, and (4) the recognition of evolutionary units of microbial diversity. These challenges need to be overcome to arrive at a meaningful taxonomy of not-yet-cultured prokaryotes with so far poorly understood phenotypes.