The genus Spiroplasma and its non-helical descendants: phylogenetic classification, correlation with phenotype and roots of the Mycoplasma mycoides clade

Int J Syst Evol Microbiol. 2004 May;54(Pt 3):893-918. doi: 10.1099/ijs.0.02688-0.


The genus Spiroplasma (helical mollicutes: Bacteria: Firmicutes: Mollicutes: Entomoplasmatales: Spiroplasmataceae) is associated primarily with insects. The Mycoplasma mycoides cluster (sensu Weisburg et al. 1989 and Johansson and Pettersson 2002) is a group of mollicutes that includes the type species - Mycoplasma mycoides - of Mycoplasmatales, Mycoplasmataceae and Mycoplasma. This cluster, associated solely with ruminants, contains five other species and subspecies. Earlier phylogenetic reconstructions based on partial 16S rDNA sequences and a limited sample of Spiroplasma and Mycoplasma sequences suggested that the genus Mycoplasma was polyphyletic, as the M. mycoides cluster and the grouping that consisted of the hominis and pneumoniae groups of Mycoplasma species were widely separated phylogenetically and the M. mycoides cluster was allied with Spiroplasma. It is shown here that the M. mycoides cluster arose from Spiroplasma through an intermediate group of non-helical spiroplasmal descendants - the Entomoplasmataceae. As this conclusion has profound implications in the taxonomy of Mollicutes, a detailed phylogenetic study of Spiroplasma and its non-helical descendants was undertaken. These analyses, done with maximum-parsimony, provide cladistic status; a new nomenclature is introduced here, based on 'bottom-up' rather than 'top-down' clade classification. The order Entomoplasmatales consists of four major clades: (i) the Mycoides-Entomoplasmataceae clade, which contains M. mycoides and its allies and Entomoplasma and Mesoplasma species and is a sister lineage to (ii) the Apis clade of Spiroplasma. Spiroplasma and the Entomoplasmataceae are paraphyletic, but this status does not diminish their phylogenetic usefulness. Five species that were previously unclassified phylogenetically are basal to the Apis clade sensu strictu and to the Mycoides clade. One of these species, Spiroplasma sp. TIUS-1, has very poor helicity and a very small genome (840 kbp); this putative species can be envisioned as a 'missing link' in the evolution of the Mycoides-Entomoplasmataceae clade. The other two Spiroplasma clades are: (iii) the Citri-Chrysopicola-Mirum clade (serogroups I, II, V and VIII) and (iv) the ixodetis clade (serogroup VI). As Mesoplasma lactucae represents a basal divergence within the Mycoides-Entomoplasmataceae clade, and as Entomoplasma freundtii is basal to the Mycoides clade, M. mycoides and its allies must have arisen from an ancestor in the Entomoplasmataceae. The paraphyletic grouping that consists of the Hominis and Pneumoniae groups (sensu Johansson & Pettersson 2002) of Mycoplasma species contains the ancestral roots of Ureaplasma spp. and haemoplasmas. This clade is a sister lineage to the Entomoplasmatales clade. Serological classifications of spiroplasma are very highly supported by the trees presented. Genome size and G+C content of micro-organismal DNA were moderately conserved, but there have been frequent and polyphyletically distributed genome reductions. Sterol requirements were polyphyletic, as was the ability to grow in the presence of polyoxyethylene sorbitan-supplemented, but not serum-supplemented, media. As this character is not phylogenetically distributed, Mesoplasma and Entomoplasma should be combined into a single genus. The phylogenetic trees presented here confirm previous reports of polyphyly of the genus Mycoplasma. As both clades of Mycoplasma contain several species of great practical importance, a change of the genus name for species in either clade would have immense practical implications. In addition, a change of the genus name for M. mycoides would have to be approved by the Judicial Commission. For these reasons, the Linnaean and phylogenetic classifications of Mycoplasma must for now be discrepant.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Base Composition
  • DNA, Bacterial / chemistry
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mycoplasma mycoides / classification*
  • Mycoplasma mycoides / genetics
  • Mycoplasma mycoides / metabolism
  • Phenotype
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Serotyping
  • Spiroplasma / classification*
  • Spiroplasma / genetics
  • Spiroplasma / metabolism
  • Terminology as Topic


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • RNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AY189125
  • GENBANK/AY189126
  • GENBANK/AY189127
  • GENBANK/AY189128
  • GENBANK/AY189129
  • GENBANK/AY189130
  • GENBANK/AY189131
  • GENBANK/AY189132
  • GENBANK/AY189133
  • GENBANK/AY189134
  • GENBANK/AY189305
  • GENBANK/AY189306
  • GENBANK/AY189307
  • GENBANK/AY189308
  • GENBANK/AY189309
  • GENBANK/AY189310
  • GENBANK/AY189311
  • GENBANK/AY189312
  • GENBANK/AY189313
  • GENBANK/AY189314
  • GENBANK/AY189315
  • GENBANK/AY189316
  • GENBANK/AY189317
  • GENBANK/AY189318
  • GENBANK/AY189319
  • GENBANK/AY189320