From Mikhail Tikhonov at The Scientist:
More profoundly, microbial ecosystems are a strange world where many familiar concepts start to break down, including “species,” “fitness,” and maybe even “organism.” In our everyday experience, we are rarely in doubt whether a given creature is a fox or a rabbit. Further, it seems very easy to delineate where an “individual” ends, and its “environment” begins. Our ability to do so is often taken for granted, and underlies how we think about both ecology and evolution. Whether these assumptions remain adequate for microbes is, however, increasingly doubtful.
The issue of microbial species being ill-defined is a hot topic in the biological literature. In a recent paper in Physical Review E, I try to bring it to the attention of the physics community, proposing that ideas from condensed matter and statistical physics could help contribute to this discussion. The larger picture, however, is that microbial ecology is at a stage where we might have to reevaluate some of our most fundamental assumptions. When unsure if we can trust our common sense, the only solid pillars we have left are data and mathematics, and we need both. More.
It’s good that someone has noticed that the concept of species probably doesn’t make much sense at all among life forms that can use horizontal gene transfer on a regular basis.
Maybe we need to decide first whether science still needs tools, rather than grievances. After that, the rest is method, plodding, logistics, and plodding.
See also: Horizontal gene transfer: Sorry, Darwin, it’s not your evolution any more
Why teach algebra? Part II
Objectivity is sexist.