In 1989, Bouvet and Jeanjean delineated five proteolytic genomic species (GS) of Acinetobacter, each with two to four human isolates. Three were later validly named, whereas the remaining two (GS15 and GS16) have been awaiting nomenclatural clarification. Here we present the results of the genus-wide taxonomic study of 13 human strains classified as GS16 (n=10) or GS15 (n=3). Based on core genome phylogenetic analysis, the strains formed two respective but closely related phylogroups within the Acinetobacter haemolytic clade. The intraspecies genomic average nucleotide identity based on blast (ANIb) values for GS16 and GS15 reached ≥94.9 % and ≥98.7, respectively, whereas ANIb values between them were 92.5-93.5% and those between them and the known species were ≤91.5 %. GS16 and GS15 could be differentiated from the other Acinetobacter species by their ability to lyse gelatin and sheep blood and to assimilate d,l-lactate, along with their inability to acidify d-glucose and assimilate glutarate. In contrast, GS16 and GS15 were indistinguishable from one another by metabolic/physiological features or whole-cell MALDI-TOF mass spectra. All the GS15/GS16 genomes contained genes encoding a class D β-lactamase, Acinetobacter-derived cephalosporinase and aminoglycoside 6'-N-acetyltransferase. Searching NCBI databases revealed genome sequences of three additional isolates of GS16, but none of GS15. We conclude that our data support GS16 as representing a novel species, but leave the question of the taxonomic status of GS15 open, given its close relatedness to GS16 and the small number of available strains. We propose the name Acinetobacter higginsii sp. nov. for GS16, with the type strain NIPH 1872T (CCM 9243T=CIP 70.18T=ATCC 17988T).
Keywords: MALDI-TOF MS; carbon source assimilation; core genome phylogeny; whole genome sequence.