Microbial diversity and the genetic nature of microbial species

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2008 Jun;6(6):431-40. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro1872. Epub 2008 May 7.


The earth contains a huge number of largely uncharacterized Bacteria and Archaea. Microbiologists are struggling to summarize their genetic diversity and classify them, which has resulted in heated debates on methods for defining species, mechanisms that lead to speciation and whether microbial species even exist. This Review proposes that decisions on the existence of species and methods to define them should be guided by a method-free species concept that is based on cohesive evolutionary forces. It summarizes current approaches to defining species and the problems of these approaches, and presents selected examples of the population genetic patterns at and below the species level.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Archaea / classification*
  • Archaea / genetics*
  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Microbiology
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Genetic Speciation
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genetics, Microbial / methods*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Selection, Genetic