Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

, Volume 106, Issue 1, pp 57–65 | Cite as

Time to revisit polyphasic taxonomy

  • Peter Vandamme
  • Charlotte Peeters
Invited Review Antonie van Leeuwenhoek 80th Anniversary Issue


Although the International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria does not specify a working strategy, editors and reviewers of taxonomic journals commonly request a polyphasic taxonomic approach that includes phenotypic, genotypic and chemotaxonomic information for the description of novel bacterial species. Whole genome sequences provide an insight into the genetic nature of microbial species, yield new and superior tools for delineating bacterial species and for studying their phylogeny, and provide a window on an organism’s metabolic potential. These new insights and tools are gradually introduced in the polyphasic taxonomic practice. The genus Burkholderia, a controversial group of bacteria with both benign and devastating characteristics, is used as an example to show that the modern practice of polyphasic taxonomy is counterproductive in light of the tremendous number of bacterial species that awaits formal description and naming. Bacterial taxonomists must urgently reconsider how to describe and name novel bacteria in the genomic era, and should consider using a full genome sequence and a minimal description of phenotypic characteristics as a basic, sufficient, cost-effective and appropriate biological identity card for a species description.


Bacterial taxonomy Polyphasic taxonomy Species description Whole genome sequence Burkholderia Genomics 



We thank Iain Sutcliffe, Editor-in-Chief of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, for his kind invitation to contribute to this festive issue of the journal and for giving us the opportunity to express some of our concerns. C. P. is indebted to the Special Research Council of Ghent University. The Burkholderia cepacia complex National Reference Center is supported by the Belgian Ministry of Social Affairs through a fund within the Health Insurance System.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of MicrobiologyGhentBelgium

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