Mycoplasma genitalium

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A Microbial Biorealm page on the genus Mycoplasma genitalium


Higher order taxa

Bacteria; Firmicutes; Mollicutes; Mycoplasmatales; Mycoplasmataceae; Mycoplasma


Mycoplasma genitalium

NCBI: Taxonomy

Description and significance

Mycoplasma genitalium is a parasitic bacterium with the smallest known genome of any free living bacteria at 580,070 bp long.[1] They are believed to have evolved from gram-positive bacteria through a process of degenerative evolution, leading to the loss of many ancestral genes and the reduction of its genome. M. genitalium is so far one out fifteen mycoplasma species of human origin. They are often found invading and adhering to the epithelial linings of the urogenital tracts, but they have also been isolated in the respiratory tract. M. genitalium is associated with many urogenital tract infections, in both men and women. In fact M. genitalium was first isolated in two men with non-gonococcal urethritis.[3]

Besides its importance as a pathogen, its genome has been extensively studied in order to determine the minimal set of genes essential for life.[2]

Genome structure

In 1995, the entire genome of M. genitalium was sequenced in less than 6 months using the random shotgun sequencing technique. It was found to have the smallest known genome of any free-living organism at about 580 kilobase pairs long, with 479 coding sequences for proteins. For comparison M. pneumoniae has 677 protein coding sequences, H. influenzae has 1703, and E. coli K-12 has 4,288.[9]

The genome-sequencing projects have shown that there is a 62% similarity between the coding regions of Bacillus subtilis and a 56% similarity to E. coli, however there is even closer similarity to the gram-positive species of Lactobacillus and Clostridium. This provides strong evidence that the mycoplasmas are more closely related to gram-positive bacteria with low GC contents.[9]

Low GC content is a characteristic of all mycoplasmas. M. genitalium possess an average GC content of 32%. Genes coding for rRNA average 44% and 52% for tRNA. The GC content for rRNA and tRNA are much higher than the rest of the genome due to the importance of their secondary structures.[9]

The Mycoplasmas evolved through a process of degenerate evolution from gram-positive bacteria. They have lost many genes such as those involved with cell wall synthesis and various biosynthetic pathways, as they adapted to a more parasitic lifestyle. This allows them to have some of the smallest genomes of any bacterial organism.[10] In addition, their UGA codon is used as another codon for tryptophan instead of a stop codon found in other organisms.[1]

M. genitalium lack any genes for amino acid biosynthesis and contain few genes for nucleic acid, vitamins, and fatty acid biosynthesis. They must acquire these components from their host or through an artificial medium. This makes them difficult to study in the lab under in vitro conditions, due to their strict growth requirements. They also lack genes for oxidative metabolism (Kreb cycle, or Entner-Doudoroff pathway), gluconeogenesis, catalase and peroxidase, or other toxic oxygen protective enzymes. They also appear to possess few regulatory proteins, such as two-component systems and no identifiable transcription factors.[9] They do however possess the genes necessary for DNA replication, transcription, and translation, but even these contain a minimal set of rRNA and tRNA genes.[10] They also contain genes for glycolysis, phospholipids metabolism, and for converting vitamins to cofactors. They have less DNA repair genes compared to E. coli and H. influenzae. It can be assumed however that the genes detected such as uracil DNA glycosylase, exinuclease ABC genes, and recA must be essential for proper DNA repair in all organisms.[9]

While M. genitalium have been able to reduce its genome during the course of its evolution as a parasite, it must maintain genes necessary for this mode of life. A significant portion of its genome is devoted to the transport of exogenous nutrients such as glucose and fructose, as well as genes for attachment organelles, adhesins, and antigenic variation to evade the host immune system. In fact it’s estimated that 5% of its total DNA is devoted to repeat fragments used for antigenic recombination of cell pole adhesins.[1]

M. genitalium possess the minimum set of genes needed for protein synthesis and DNA replication, however as a result of this protein synthesis and cell replication occurs much slower compared to E. coli. M. genitalium grow slowly with a generation time of 24 hours.[1]

E. coli and M. genitalium both have 12% of their genome occupied by intergenic non-coding regions such as control elements, promoters, and terminators. However, M, genitalium possess more operon systems, probably reducing the number of regulatory elements for the transcription of genes and further contributing to the reduction of its genome. This increases gene density with the average gene size for M. genitalium at 1,040 base pairs, compared with 900 in H. influenzae.[9]

Cell Structure and Metabolism

M. genitalium have a flask-like shape and they do not have a cell wall like all mycoplasma species. Lacking a cell wall they have only a plasma membrane, with over two thirds of its mass containing proteins and the rest being membrane lipids. Virtually all mycoplasma lipids are located in the cell membrane such as phospholipids, glycolipids, and neutral lipids. Membrane lipoproteins are also found to be much higher in mycoplasma species compared to other eubacteria membranes. In addition their membrane lipoproteins are strongly antigenic, many of which undergo antigenic and/or size variations.[9]

They lack genes for synthesizing any fatty acid and therefore depend on their host for their supply. Most mycoplasmas generally synthesize their own membrane phospholipids and glycolipids from the exogenously provided fatty acids. There is a price for this gene saving. Being deficient in the ability to regulate membrane fluidity by controlling their fatty acid biosynthesis, the mycoplasmas overcome this difficulty by incorporating large quantities of cholesterol from their hosts into their membrane. Cholesterol serves as a very effective buffer of membrane fluidity.[9]

M. genitalium is a motile mycoplasma. It uses a specialized tip structure to attach to surfaces and glide across them. The average speed is about 0.1 μ/s, which is slower than that recorded for M. pneumoniae. This tip structure also serves as the attachment organelle, allowing M. genitalium to adhere to eukaryotic cells.[9] Attachment is mediated mostly by the adhesin protein MgPa, which undergoes antigenic recombination.[7]

As mentioned earlier, M. genitalium is deficient in many genes coding for components of many biosynthetic pathways, including energy metabolism. M. genitalium depend mostly on glycolysis for the production of ATP. Genes that encode the components of the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex, phosphotransacetylase, and acetate kinase were also detected, as well as an incomplete pentose phosphate pathway. Many energy-producing systems are lacking such as the TCA (tricarboxylic acid) cycle, and no quinones and cytochromes were found in any of the mycoplasmas. ATP is produced in mycoplasmas by subtrate-level phosphorylation, less efficient than oxidative phosphorylation. Despite these limited and inefficient ATP producing systems, M. genitalium grow well in vivo most likely due to the relatively small investment of ATP needed for their limited biosynthetic pathways.[9]


Due to the scarcity of genes involved in biosynthetic pathways, mycoplasmas depend on a supply of nutrients from their hosts and as such they exist as parasites of various animals and plants. M. genitalium is found primarily in the urogenital tract of humans; however they have been isolated in the respiratory tract as well.

Lacking a cell wall and limited only by their plasma membrane, M. genitalium is much more osmotically sensitive than walled bacteria. As a parasite in the human urogenital tract they can exist in an osmotically constant environment. Its transmission by sexual contact also ensures its minimal exposure to the external environment.

Mycoplasmas are benign pathogens, causing mostly mild and chromic infections, rarely killing their hosts. It is possible that mycoplasmas, including M. genitalium are evolving towards symbiosis.


The urogenital tract appears to be the primary tissue infected by M. genitalium, however they have also been isolated in the respiratory tract. Tissue damage is only partially caused by toxins and harmful metabolites produced by M. genitalium, such as hydrogen peroxide and super-oxide metabolites. Most likely the much of the damage is caused by the inflammatory response of the host immune system.

In men, M. genitalium is a major agent in urogenital tract disease. In a range of studies they have been found in 10-45% of men with non-gonococcal urethritis. The role of M. genitalium in women is less understood, but they are believed to be able to cause cervicitis and pelvic inflammation disease (PID). Only incomplete evidence has been established for the role of M. genitalium on infertility, while its role in bacterial vaginosis (BV) and adverse pregnancy in women have not been fully determined. M. genitalium can be sexually transmitted with rates similar to Chlamydia trachomatis, another pathogen which can cause urethritis.

Adhesion of mycoplasmas to host cells is required for colonization and for infection. Loss of adhesion leads to a loss on infectivity. They attach to host cells using a specialized tip structure that contain adhesin proteins. The main adhesin protein is encoded by the MgPa gene, followed by a gene encoding an 114 kDa protein. Repeat fragments of both these genes, with 78-90% sequence similarity, are found throughout the genome and make up 4.7% of its total genomic content. A high cost considering its limited genome. Recombination of the MgPa operon with the MgPa-repeat fragments may generate almost unlimited variation in these epitopes, allowing unique opportunities to evade the immune response and to adapt to various cell surfaces. Other variable antigens are currently under study and may prove to offer additional variation for M. genitalium, including the lipoproteins on the plasma membrane.

There is also evidence that M. genitalium can enter host cells using their tip structure. It has been shown that M. genitalium on contact with human lung fibroblast, the plasma membrane of the cell appears to be forced inward, with membrane pockets resembling clathrin-coated pits. It is believed that the mycoplasma may be able to adhere to and enter cells by a receptor-mediated event similar to cell entry of chlamydias. Being able to exist as an intracellular pathogen could explain difficulties in fully eliminating the disease and preventing relapse, despite active antibiotic treatments.

The macrolide antibiotic group appears to be more effective than the tetracyclines in treatment of M. genitalium. Further research is still being done on proper treatment.

Application to Biotechnology

Does this organism produce any useful compounds or enzymes? What are they and how are they used?

Current Research

Enter summaries of the most recent research here--at least three required


C.M. Fraser et al. Science. 1995. Volume 270: 397-403

Deborah, Josefson. “Scientists try to discover how many genes are necessary to build a living organism.” BMJ (Bristish Medical Journal). December 18, 1999. Volume 319(7225): 1592.

Jensen, Jorgen Skov. “Mycoplasma genitalium infections” Danish Medical Bulletin – No. 1. Fenruary 2006. Volume 53: 1-27.

Jensen, Jorgen Skov. “Mycoplasma genitalium: the aeticological agent of urethritis and other sexually transmitted diseases.” Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. January 2004. Volume 18(1): 1-11.

Maniloff, Jack. “The minimal cell genome: ‘On being the right size.’” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. September 1996. Volume 93: 10004-10006.

Morgan, Nacy A. “Microbial Minimalism: Genome Reduction in Bacterial Pathogens.” Cell. March 8, 2002. Volume 108: 583-586.

Peterson, Scott et al. “Characterization of repetitive DNA in the Mycoplasma genitalium genome: Possible role in the generation of antigenic variation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. December 1995. Volume 92: 11829-11833.

Peterson, Scott and Claire M. Fraser. “The complexity of simplicity.” Genome Biology. 2001. Volume 2(2).

Razin, Shmuel. “The minimal cellular genome of mycoplasma.” Indian Journal of Biochemistry & Biophysics. Feb-Apr 1997. Volume 34(1-2):124-30.

Shmuel Razin, David Yogev, and Yehudith Naot. “Molecular Biology and Pathogenicity of Mycoplasmas.” Microbiology Molecular Biology Review. 1998 December; 62(4): 1094–1156.

Walsh, Nancy. “M. genitalium tied to pelvic inflammatory disease: sexual transmission – Gynecology.” OB/GYN News. Sept 15, 2003.

Edited by student of Michael Yam