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Background: The genus Geobacillus comprises bacteria that are Gram positive, thermophilic spore-formers, which are found in a variety of environments from hot-springs, cool soils, to food manufacturing plants, including dairy manufacturing plants. Despite considerable interest in the use of Geobacillus spp. for biotechnological applications, the taxonomy of this genus is unclear, in part because of differences in DNA-DNA hybridization (DDH) similarity values between studies. In addition, it is also difficult to use phenotypic characteristics to define a bacterial species. For example, G. Stearothermophilus was traditionally defined as a species that does not utilise lactose, but the ability of dairy strains of G. Stearothermophilus to use lactose has now been well established. Results: This study compared the genome sequences of 63 Geobacillus isolates and showed that based on two different genomic approaches (core genome comparisons and average nucleotide identity) the Geobacillus genus could be divided into sixteen taxa for those Geobacillus strains that have genome sequences available thus far. In addition, using Geobacillus stearothermophilus as an example, we show that inclusion of the accessory genome, as well as phenotypic characteristics, is not suitable for defining this species. For example, this is the first study to provide evidence of dairy adaptation in G. Stearothermophilus - a phenotypic feature not typically considered standard in this species - by identifying the presence of a putative lac operon in four dairy strains. Conclusions: The traditional polyphasic approach of combining both genotypic and phenotypic characteristics to define a bacterial species could not be used for G. Stearothermophilus where many phenotypic characteristics vary within this taxon. Further evidence of this discordant use of phenotypic traits was provided by analysis of the accessory genome, where the dairy strains contained a putative lac operon. Based on the findings from this study, we recommend that novel bacterial species should be defined using a core genome approach.
Burgess, S. A., Flint, S. H., Lindsay, D., Cox, M. P., & Biggs, P. J. (2017). Insights into the Geobacillus stearothermophilus species based on phylogenomic principles. BMC Microbiology, 17(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12866-017-1047-x