The form species concept for the Cyanobacteria was evaluated using a comprehensive set of Nostoc samples that were collected during the past two centuries, from all continents, including regions from the Tropics to the Poles. Phylogenies were constructed based upon the conserved regions of tRNALeu (UAA) group I intron DNA sequences. Thirty-four forms contained a tRNALeu (UAA) intron of 284 nt. These 284-nt introns contained 200 nt of conserved sequence that, in most cases, shared 100% sequence identity, they had three variable regions (I, II and III) amounting to 84 nt, contained no hypervariable region and formed a discrete cluster in phylogenetic analysis. These forms represented 31 independent populations in both hemispheres and constitute examples of form species Nostoc commune. Multiple introns were obtained from several of the populations. Ten populations contained introns of 287-340 nt with a hypervariable region, 8 to 59 nt in length, located between variable regions I and II. Alignments identified 15 examples where 5'-AAAAUCC-3' occurred at the hypervariable region-variable region II boundary; this sequence is identical to the conserved sequence at the 3' intron-exon boundary (splice site) within the tRNALeu (UAA) gene. The possibility that hypervariable regions were removed from the primary intron through secondary splicing was tested in vitro but proved to be negative under the experimental conditions used. Shared morphologies of genetically different strains, dissimilar morphologies in strains that share identical genetic markers, incorrect naming of culture collection strains and genetic drift in cultured strains emphasize that the successful delineation of cyanobacterial species requires the application of multiple taxonomic criteria.


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