Bacterial species and speciation

Syst Biol. 2001 Aug;50(4):513-24. doi: 10.1080/10635150118398.


Bacteria are profoundly different from eukaryotes in their patterns of genetic exchange. Nevertheless, ecological diversity is organized in the same way across all of life: individual organisms fall into more less discrete clusters on the basis of their phenotypic, ecological, and DNA sequence characteristics. Each sequence cluster in the bacterial world appears to correspond to an "ecotype," defined as a population of cells in the same ecological niche, which would all be out-competed by any adaptive mutant coming from the population. Ecotypes, so defined, share many of the dynamic properties attributed to eukaryotic species: genetic diversity within an ecotype is limited by a force of cohesion (in this case, periodic selection); different ecotypes are free to diverge without constraint from one another; and ecotypes are ecologically distinct. Also, ecotypes can be discovered and classified as DNA sequence clusters, even when we are ignorant of their ecology. Owing to the rarity and promiscuity of bacterial genetic exchange, speciation in the bacterial world is expected to be much less constrained than in the world of animals and plants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Ecosystem
  • Genetic Variation
  • Phylogeny
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Species Specificity