During previous cooperative numerical taxonomic studies of slowly growing mycobacteria, the International Working Group on Mycobacterial Taxonomy described a number of strains whose taxonomic status was ambiguous. A new study of DNA, RNA, and proteins from 66 of these organisms was performed to correlate their properties with phenotypic clustering behavior; the results of this study permitted 51 of the strains studied to be assigned to known species. The methods used to characterize the semantides included nucleotide sequencing and assessment of levels of semantide relatedness by affinity binding techniques, including whole DNA-DNA hybridization, probe hybridization, and antibody binding. There was good overall agreement between the phenotypic and chemotaxonomic clusters and the groups of organisms identified by semantide analyses. Our results supported the conclusion that we should continue to rely on polyphasic taxonomy to provide satisfactory systematic resolution of members of the genus . We identified no single 16S rRNA interstrain nucleotide sequence difference value that unequivocally defined species boundaries. DNA-DNA hybridization remains the gold standard, but common resources are needed to permit DNA-DNA hybridization analyses to be made available to laboratories that are not prepared to use this technology. One of the large novel clusters which we studied corresponds to the recently described species , a pathogen that resembles the nonpathogen phenotypically. We also identified strains that appear to represent ribovars of which do not react with the commercial diagnostic probes that are currently used for identification of this species. Other branches or clusters consisted of too few strains to permit a decision about their taxonomic status to be made.


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