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Taxonomy of bacterial fish pathogens

Brian Austin

Author Affiliations

Institute of Aquaculture, Pathfoot Building, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, Scotland, UK

Veterinary Research 2011, 42:20  doi:10.1186/1297-9716-42-20

Published: 2 February 2011


Bacterial taxonomy has progressed from reliance on highly artificial culture-dependent techniques involving the study of phenotype (including morphological, biochemical and physiological data) to the modern applications of molecular biology, most recently 16S rRNA gene sequencing, which gives an insight into evolutionary pathways (= phylogenetics). The latter is applicable to culture-independent approaches, and has led directly to the recognition of new uncultured bacterial groups, i.e. "Candidatus", which have been associated as the cause of some fish diseases, including rainbow trout summer enteritic syndrome. One immediate benefit is that 16S rRNA gene sequencing has led to increased confidence in the accuracy of names allocated to bacterial pathogens. This is in marked contrast to the previous dominance of phenotyping, and identifications, which have been subsequently challenged in the light of 16S rRNA gene sequencing. To date, there has been some fluidity over the names of bacterial fish pathogens, with some, for example Vibrio anguillarum, being divided into two separate entities (V. anguillarum and V. ordalii). Others have been combined, for example V. carchariae, V. harveyi and V. trachuri as V. harveyi. Confusion may result with some organisms recognized by more than one name; V. anguillarum was reclassified as Beneckea and Listonella, with Vibrio and Listonella persisting in the scientific literature. Notwithstanding, modern methods have permitted real progress in the understanding of the taxonomic relationships of many bacterial fish pathogens.