Impact of genomics on the understanding of microbial evolution and classification: the importance of Darwin's views on classification
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Analyses of genome sequences, by some approaches, suggest that the widespread occurrence of horizontal gene transfers (HGTs) in prokaryotes disguises their evolutionary relationships and have led to questioning of the Darwinian model of evolution for prokaryotes. These inferences are critically examined in the light of comparative genome analysis, characteristic synapomorphies, phylogenetic trees and Darwin's views on examining evolutionary relationships. Genome sequences are enabling discovery of numerous molecular markers (synapomorphies) such as conserved signature indels (CSIs) and conserved signature proteins (CSPs), which are distinctive characteristics of different prokaryotic taxa. Based on these molecular markers, exhibiting high degree of specificity and predictive ability, numerous prokaryotic taxa of different ranks, currently identified based on the 16S rRNA gene trees, can now be reliably demarcated in molecular terms. Within all studied groups, multiple CSIs and CSPs have been identified for successive nested clades providing reliable information regarding their hierarchical relationships and these inferences are not affected by HGTs. These results strongly support Darwin's views on evolution and classification and supplement the current phylogenetic framework based on 16S rRNA in important respects. The identified molecular markers provide important means for developing novel diagnostics, therapeutics and for functional studies providing important insights regarding prokaryotic taxa.
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