Evidence of taxonomic bias in public databases: The example of the genus Borrelia

Gabriele Margos, Gary P. Wormser, Ira Schwartz, Mateusz Markowicz, Anna J. Henningsson, Reto Lienhard, Brian Stevenson, Agustín Estrada-Peña, Andreas Sing, Volker Fingerle, Markus Göker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The taxon names used in public databases are of critical importance in all areas of biology because they are needed for linking organisms to sequence data and other information. Since most users of taxonomic classifications may be unprepared for dealing with synonyms, the names that are preferred in such databases are of high impact. Using the genus Borrelia as an example, we here show how simplistic approaches for determining the preferred synonym may lead to biases regarding the preferences for taxonomic opinions. We highlight that in this and other cases where genera were split, for reverting to the previous “merged” genus it is neither possible nor necessary to generate validly published and legitimate names that are newer than those that were proposed as new combinations when the genus was split. The policy to always prefer the latest validly published name in a public database may thus render this database oblivious to reversals in taxonomic opinion. We emphasize that users of public databases should be aware of such potential shortcomings, and that curators of databases which provide nomenclatural information should be open-minded about taxonomic views expressed in the literature.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101994
JournalTicks and Tick-borne Diseases
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors gratefully acknowledge the information provided to them by members of the NCBI staff.

Funding Information:
Dr. Wormser reports receiving research grants from the Institute for Systems Biology and Pfizer, Inc. He has been an expert witness in malpractice cases involving Lyme disease; and is an unpaid board member of the non-profit American Lyme Disease Foundation. M.M. discloses serving as a consultant for Pfizer unrelated to this work.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022


  • Bacterial taxonomy
  • Borrelia
  • Borreliella
  • GenBank
  • Lyme borreliosis
  • Lyme disease
  • Nomenclature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Insect Science
  • Infectious Diseases


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