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Wien Klin Wochenschr. 1997 Aug 8;109(14-15):551-6.

Comparative genomics of mycoplasmas.

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  • 1Department of Membrane and Ultrastructure Research, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, Israel.


The mycoplasmas are the smallest and simplest self-replicating organisms. The goal of defining in molecular terms the entire machinery of a living cell by using mycoplasmas as models was put forward by Harold Morowitz in 1984. The recent complete sequencing of the genomes of the human pathogens Mycoplasma genitalium and Mycoplasma pneumoniae brings us much closer to achieving this goal. The M. genitalium genome contains only 479 predicted protein coding sequences (genes) and that of M. pneumoniae 677, as compared with 1703 in Haemophilus influenzae and about 4000 in E. coli. Thus, M. genitalium is apparently the simplest organism capable of independent life with a minimal set of genes. The drastic economization in genetic information must have been associated with the parasitic mode of life of the mycoplasmas. During their reductive evolution from Gram-positive bacteria the mycoplasmas have lost the cell wall and many biosynthetic systems involved in synthesis of macromolecule building blocks provided by their host. Thus, the M. genitalium and M. pneumoniae genomes do not carry any gene involved in amino acid biosynthesis, and very few genes for vitamin, nucleic acid precursor and fatty acid biosynthesis. The mycoplasma genomes carry a minimal set of energy metabolism genes, being content with a restricted supply of ATP needed for their parasitic mode of life. Nevertheless, these minimal organisms carry the essential genes for DNA replication, transcription and translation, but even here gene saving is expressed by a minimal number of rRNA and tRNA genes. A genomic price had been paid to maintain parasitism, so that a significant number of mycoplasmal genes is devoted to adhesins, attachment organelles and variable membrane surface antigens directed towards evasion of the host immune system.

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