Gonzalez, J.M., Puerta-Fernández, E., Santana, M.M. & Rekadwad, B. (2020) On a non-discrete concept of prokaryotic species.Microorganisms, 8(11), 1723. DOI:10.3390/microorganisms8111723 (IF2020 4,128; Q2 Microbiology)
The taxonomic concept of species has received continuous attention. A microbial species as a discrete box contains a limited number of highly similar microorganisms assigned to that taxon, following a polyphasic approach. In the 21st Century, with the advancements of sequencing technologies and genomics, the existence of a huge prokaryotic diversity has become well known. At present, the prokaryotic species might no longer have to be understood as discrete values (such as 1 or 2, by homology to Natural numbers); rather, it is expected that some microorganisms could be potentially distributed (according to their genome features and phenotypes) in between others (such as decimal numbers between 1 and 2; real numbers). We propose a continuous species concept for microorganisms, which adapts to the current knowledge on the huge diversity, variability and heterogeneity existing among bacteria and archaea. Likely, this concept could be extended to eukaryotic microorganisms. The continuous species concept considers a species to be delimited by the distance between a range of variable features following a Gaussian-type distribution around a reference organism (i.e., its type strain). Some potential pros and cons of a continuous concept are commented on, offering novel perspectives on our understanding of the highly diversified prokaryotic world, thus promoting discussion and further investigation in the field.