The taxonomic structure of members of the genus Azoarcus sensu lato was reassessed in a polyphasic approach. Two species, Azoarcus communis and Azoarcus indigens, three unnamed species containing diazotrophs associated with Kallar grass roots (groups C, D) and a group of strains (E) isolated from fungi were analysed. They were compared by PAGE analyses of cellular proteins, genomic fingerprints, morphological and nutritional features to new isolates from rice roots. All strains within groups C, D and E containing 5-12 isolates showed group-specific cell and colony morphology and carbon source utilization patterns, with exception of the obligately microaerobic strain BS20-3, a member of group C. All strains, with this exception, also had almost indistinguishable electrophoretic protein patterns and genomic fingerprints generated with tDNA-directed primers, suggesting they belong to the same species. Phylogenetic analyses of almost complete 16S rDNA sequences carried out with three different algorithms (neighbour-joining, maximum-likelihood, parsimony) revealed that Azoarcus sensu lato is not monophyletic. Groups C, D and E formed three distinct lineages located between the Azoarcus/Thauera and the Rhodocyclus clusters. Phylogenetic distances between groups C, D and E were as large as between other genera (93-94% sequence similarity). This suggested they have the rank of three different genera. Since it was possible to differentiate them from each other and other related bacteria by phenotypic features, three new genera with one type species each are proposed: Azovibrio restrictus gen. nov., sp. nov., Azospira oryzae gen. nov., sp. nov. and Azonexus fungiphilus gen. nov., sp. nov.


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