What are mycoplasmas: the relationship of tempo and mode in bacterial evolution

J Mol Evol. 1984-1985;21(4):305-16. doi: 10.1007/BF02115648.


In phenotype the mycoplasmas are very different from ordinary bacteria. However, genotypically (i.e., phylogenetically) they are not. On the basis of ribosomal RNA homologies the mycoplasmas belong with the clostridia, and indeed have specific clostridial relatives. Mycoplasmas are, however, unlike almost all other bacteria in the evolutionary characteristics of their ribosomal RNAs. These RNAs contain relatively few of the highly conserved oligonucleotide sequences characteristic of normal eubacterial ribosomal RNAs. This is interpreted to be a reflection of an elevated mutation rate in mycoplasma lines of descent. A general consequence of this would be that the variation associated with a mycoplasma population is augmented both in number and kind, which in turn would lead to an unusual evolutionary course, one unique in all respects. Mycoplasmas, then, are actually tachytelic bacteria. The unusual evolutionary characteristics of their ribosomal RNAs are the imprints of their rapid evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Base Composition
  • Base Sequence
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Mycoplasma / genetics*
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Bacterial / analysis*
  • RNA, Ribosomal / analysis*


  • RNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal