The genera Anaplasma, Ehrlichia, Cowdria, Neorickettsia and Wolbachia encompass a group of obligate intracellular bacteria that reside in vacuoles of eukaryotic cells and were previously placed in taxa based upon morphological, ecological, epidemiological and clinical characteristics. Recent genetic analyses of 16S rRNA genes, groESL and surface protein genes have indicated that the existing taxa designations are flawed. All 16S rRNA gene and groESL sequences deposited in GenBank prior to 2000 and selected sequences deposited thereafter were aligned and phylogenetic trees and bootstrap values were calculated using the neighbour-joining method and compared with trees generated with maximum-probability, maximum-likelihood, majority-rule consensus and parsimony methods. Supported by bootstrap probabilities of at least 54%, 16S rRNA gene comparisons consistently clustered to yield four distinct clades characterized roughly as Anaplasma (including the Ehrlichia phagocytophila group, Ehrlichia platys and Ehrlichia bovis) with a minimum of 96.1% similarity, Ehrlichia (including Cowdria ruminantium) with a minimum of 97.7% similarity, Wolbachia with a minimum of 95.6% similarity and Neorickettsia (including Ehrlichia sennetsu and Ehrlichia risticii) with a minimum of 94.9% similarity. Maximum similarity between clades ranged from 87.1 to 94.9%. Insufficient differences existed among E. phagocytophila, Ehrlichia equi and the human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE) agent to support separate species designations, and this group was at least 98.2% similar to any Anaplasma species. These 16S rRNA gene analyses are strongly supported by similar groESL clades, as well as biological and antigenic characteristics. It is proposed that all members of the tribes Ehrlichieae and Wolbachieae be transferred to the family Anaplasmataceae and that the tribe structure of the family Rickettsiaceae be eliminated. The genus Anaplasma should be emended to include Anaplasma (Ehrlichia) phagocytophila comb. nov. (which also encompasses the former E. equi and the HGE agent), Anaplasma (Ehrlichia) bovis comb. nov. and Anaplasma (Ehrlichia) platys comb. nov., the genus Ehrlichia should be emended to include Ehrlichia (Cowdria) ruminantium comb. nov. and the genus Neorickettsia should be emended to include Neorickettsia (Ehrlichia) risticii comb. nov. and Neorickettsia (Ehrlichia) sennetsu comb. nov.


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