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Isolates as models to study bacterial ecophysiology and biogeochemistry

Journal article
Authors A. Hagström
F. Azam
C. Berg
Ulla Li Zweifel
Published in Aquatic Microbial Ecology
Volume 80
Issue 1
Pages 15-27
ISSN 0948-3055
Publication year 2017
Published at Swedish Institute for the Marine Environment
Pages 15-27
Language en
Keywords Bacteria, Culture, Physiology
Subject categories Earth and Related Environmental Sciences


Here, we examine the use of bacterial isolates growing in artificial media or seawater as a means to investigate bacterial activity in the upper ocean. The discovery of a major role of bacteria in the ocean's carbon cycle owes greatly to the development of culture-independent assemblage-level approaches; however, this should not detract from the recognition of model isolates as representing the environmental microbiome. A long-established tool for culturing bacteria, in medicine and general microbiology, has been agar plates. In addition, a great variety of liquid substrates including seawater have been used to successfully identify and cultivate important bacteria such as Pelagibacter ubique. Yet, the discrepancy between microscopic counts and plate counts, the great plate count anomaly, has led to a biased perception of the limited relevance of isolated bacteria. Linking isolates to whole-genome sequencing, phylogenetic analysis and computational modeling will result in culturable model bacteria from different habitats. Our main message is that bacterial ecophysiology, particularly growth rates in seawater, and functionalities inferred through the identity, abundance and expression of specific genes could be mechanistically linked if more work is done to isolate, culture and study bacteria in pure cultures. When we rally behind a strategy aimed at culturing targeted phenotypes, we are not saying that cultureindependent studies of bacteria in the sea are not informative. We are suggesting that culturebased studies can help integrate the ecological and genomic views. © The authors 2017.

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