16S rRNA sequences reveal numerous uncultured microorganisms in a natural community

Nature. 1990 May 3;345(6270):63-5. doi: 10.1038/345063a0.


Microbiologists have been constrained in their efforts to describe the compositions of natural microbial communities using traditional methods. Few microorganisms have sufficiently distinctive morphology to be recognized by microscopy. Culture-dependent methods are biased, as a microorganism can be cultivated only after its physiological niche is perceived and duplicated experimentally. It is therefore widely believed that fewer than 20% of the extant microorganisms have been discovered, and that culture methods are inadequate for studying microbial community composition. In view of the physiological and phylogenetic diversity among microorganisms, speculation that 80% or more of microbes remain undiscovered raises the question of how well we know the Earth's biota and its biochemical potential. We have performed a culture-independent analysis of the composition of a well-studied hot spring microbial community, using a common but distinctive cellular component, 16S ribosomal RNA. Our results confirm speculations about the diversity of uncultured microorganisms it contains.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Cyanobacteria / genetics*
  • DNA / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Eubacterium / genetics
  • Euryarchaeota / genetics
  • Fresh Water*
  • Hot Temperature
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Nucleic Acid Hybridization
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal / genetics*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics*
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid
  • Water*


  • RNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Water
  • DNA

Associated data

  • GENBANK/X52544
  • GENBANK/X52545
  • GENBANK/X52546
  • GENBANK/X52547
  • GENBANK/X52548
  • GENBANK/X52549
  • GENBANK/X52550
  • GENBANK/X52551