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Linking species concepts to natural product discovery in the post-genomic era

  • Author(s): Jensen, Paul R.
  • et al.
Abstract

A widely accepted species concept for bacteria has yet to be established. As a result, species designations are inconsistently applied and tied to what can be considered arbitrary metrics. Increasing access to DNA sequence data and clear evidence that bacterial genomes are dynamic entities that include large numbers of horizontally acquired genes have added a new level of insight to the ongoing species concept debate. Despite uncertainties over how to apply species concepts to bacteria, there is clear evidence that sequence-based approaches can be used to resolve cohesive groups that maintain the properties of species. This cohesion is clearly evidenced in the genus Salinispora, where three species have been discerned despite very close relationships based on 16S rRNA sequence analysis. The major phenotypic differences among the three species are associated with secondary metabolite production, which occurs in species-specific patterns. These patterns are maintained on a global basis and provide evidence that secondary metabolites have important ecological functions. These patterns also suggest that an effective strategy for natural product discovery is to target the cultivation of new Salinispora taxa. Alternatively, bioinformatic analyses of biosynthetic genes provide opportunities to predict secondary metabolite novelty and reduce the redundant isolation of well-known metabolites. Although much remains to be learned about the evolutionary relationships among bacteria and how fundamental units of diversity can be resolved, genus and species descriptions remain the most effective method of scientific communication.

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