Do Bacterial Communities Transcend Darwinism?

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Until the development of fluorescent molecular probes and confocal laser microscopy, there were few alternatives to isolating microorganisms from their communities prior to laboratory study. Isolation was necessary to obtain a sufficient amount of homogeneous cell material for chemical analyses, yet it constrained most laboratory work to the molecular, cellular, or organismal level. However, fluorescent probes and other molecular techniques now allow the analysis of individual microorganisms without isolation (Olsen et al., 1986; Pace et al., 1986; Caldwell et al., 1992a). This affords the opportunity to perform community-level laboratory experiments that are not possible with plants and animals due to their large size. However, inconsistencies between evolutionary ecology (Mayr, 1993; Krassilov, 1994; Kauffman, 1993, 1995), ecosystem ecology (Maynard-Smith, 1991; Loehle and Pechman, 1988; Schulze and Mooney, 1993), microbial ecology (Margulis, 1990; Caldwell, 1993; Caldwell and Costerton, 1996), germ theory (Caldwell, 1995; Caldwell et al., 1997a), and information theory (Rasmussen, 1988, 1991; Rasmussen et al., 1990; Yockey, 1990, 1995; Kelly, 1994) make it difficult to formulate testable hypotheses that are relevant in understanding ecology at the community level. Consideration of communities as units of proliferation (and hence as units of evolution) requires a more generalized theory of life, amenable to the formulation of community-level hypotheses and tests.