High proportions of bacteria and archaea across most biomes remain uncultured

Andrew D. Steen, Alexander Crits-Christoph, Paul Carini, Kristen M. DeAngelis, Noah Fierer, Karen G. Lloyd, J. Cameron Thrash

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

160 Scopus citations


A recent paper by Martiny argues that “high proportions” of bacteria in diverse Earth environments have been cultured. Here we reanalyze a portion of the data in that paper, and argue that the conclusion is based on several technical errors, most notably a calculation of sequence similarity that does not account for sequence gaps, and the reliance on 16S rRNA gene amplicons that are known to be biased towards cultured organisms. We further argue that the paper is also based on a conceptual error: namely, that sequence similarity cannot be used to infer “culturability” because one cannot infer physiology from 16S rRNA gene sequences. Combined with other recent, more reliable studies, the evidence supports the conclusion that most bacterial and archaeal taxa remain uncultured.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3126-3130
Number of pages5
JournalISME Journal
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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