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    The genus Salmonella comprises two species, Salmonella bongori and Salmonella enterica, which are infectious to a wide variety of animal hosts. The diversity within S. enterica has been further partitioned into 6-10 subspecies based on such features as host range, geography, and most recently, genetic relatedness and phylogenetic affiliation. Although Salmonella pathogenicity is attributable to large numbers of acquired virulence factors, the extent of homologous exchange in the species at large is apparently constrained such that the species and subspecies form distinct clusters of strains. To explore the extent of gene flow within and among subspecies, and to ultimately define true biological species, we evaluated patterns of recombination in over 1,000 genomes currently assigned to the genus. Those Salmonella subspecies containing sufficient numbers of sequenced genomes to allow meaningful analysis-i.e., subsp. enterica and diarizonae-were found to be reproductively isolated from one another and from all other subspecies. Based on the configuration of genomic sequence divergence among subspecies, it is expected that each of the other Salmonella subspecies will also represent a biological species. Our findings argue against the application of prescribed nucleotide-identity thresholds to delineate bacterial species and contend that the Biological Species Concept should not be disregarded for bacteria, even those, like Salmonella, that demonstrate complex patterns of species and subspecies divergence. IMPORTANCE The Biological Species Concept (BSC), which defines species boundaries based on the capacity for gene exchange, is widely used to classify sexually reproducing eukaryotes but is generally thought to be inapplicable to bacteria due to their completely asexual mode of reproduction. We show that the genus Salmonella, whose thousands of described serovars were formerly considered to be strictly clonal, undergoes sufficient levels of homologous recombination to be assigned to species according to the BSC. Aside from the two recognized species, Salmonella enterica and Salmonella bongori, several (and likely all) of the subspecies within S. enterica are reproductively isolated from one another and should each be considered a separate biological species. These findings demonstrate that species barriers in bacteria can form despite high levels of nucleotide identity and that commonly applied thresholds of genomic sequence identity are not reliable indicators of bacterial species status.


    Marta Cobo-Simón, Rowan Hart, Howard Ochman. Gene flow and species boundaries of the genus Salmonella. mSystems. 2023 Aug 31;8(4):e0029223

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    PMID: 37486130

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