The extent of the diversity of marine prokaryotes is not well known, primarily because of poor cultivability. However, new techniques permit the characterization of such organisms without culturing, via 16S rRNA sequences obtained directly from biomass. We performed such an analysis by polymerase chain reaction amplification with universal primers on five oligotrophic open-ocean samples: from 100-m (three samples) and 500-m depths in the western California Current (Pacific Ocean) and from a 10-m depth in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda. Of 61 clones, 90% were in clusters of two or more related marine clones obtained by ourselves or others. We report 15 clones related to clone SAR 11 found earlier near Bermuda (S. J. Giovannoni, T. B. Britschgi, C. L. Moyer, and K. G. Field, Nature [London] 345:60-63, 1990), 11 related to marine cyanobacteria, 9 clustered in a group affiliated with gram-positive bacteria, 9 in an archaeal cluster we recently described (mostly from the 500-m sample), 4 in a novel gamma-proteobacterial cluster, and 6 in three two-membered clusters (including other archaea). One clone was related to flavobacteria. Only the cyanobacteria plus one other clone, related to Roseobacter denitrificans (formerly Erythrobacter longus Och114), were within 10% sequence identity to any previously sequenced cultured organism in a major data base. We never found more than two occurrences of the same sequence in a sample, although four times we found identical sequences between samples, two of which were between oceans; one of these sequences was also identical to SAR 11.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS
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