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1.  Occurrence, Plasticity, and Evolution of the vpma Gene Family, a Genetic System Devoted to High-Frequency Surface Variation in Mycoplasma agalactiae▿ † 
Journal of Bacteriology  2009;191(13):4111-4121.
Mycoplasma agalactiae, an important pathogen of small ruminants, exhibits a very versatile surface architecture by switching multiple, related lipoproteins (Vpmas) on and off. In the type strain, PG2, Vpma phase variation is generated by a cluster of six vpma genes that undergo frequent DNA rearrangements via site-specific recombination. To further comprehend the degree of diversity that can be generated at the M. agalactiae surface, the vpma gene repertoire of a field strain, 5632, was analyzed and shown to contain an extended repertoire of 23 vpma genes distributed between two loci located 250 kbp apart. Loci I and II include 16 and 7 vpma genes, respectively, with all vpma genes of locus II being duplicated at locus I. Several Vpmas displayed a chimeric structure suggestive of homologous recombination, and a global proteomic analysis further indicated that at least 13 of the 16 Vpmas can be expressed by the 5632 strain. Because a single promoter is present in each vpma locus, concomitant Vpma expression can occur in a strain with duplicated loci. Consequently, the number of possible surface combinations is much higher for strain 5632 than for the type strain. Finally, our data suggested that insertion sequences are likely to be involved in 5632 vpma locus duplication at a remote chromosomal position. The role of such mobile genetic elements in chromosomal shuffling of genes encoding major surface components may have important evolutionary and epidemiological consequences for pathogens, such as mycoplasmas, that have a reduced genome and no cell wall.
PMCID: PMC2698505  PMID: 19376859
2.  Being Pathogenic, Plastic, and Sexual while Living with a Nearly Minimal Bacterial Genome 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(5):e75.
Mycoplasmas are commonly described as the simplest self-replicating organisms, whose evolution was mainly characterized by genome downsizing with a proposed evolutionary scenario similar to that of obligate intracellular bacteria such as insect endosymbionts. Thus far, analysis of mycoplasma genomes indicates a low level of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) implying that DNA acquisition is strongly limited in these minimal bacteria. In this study, the genome of the ruminant pathogen Mycoplasma agalactiae was sequenced. Comparative genomic data and phylogenetic tree reconstruction revealed that ∼18% of its small genome (877,438 bp) has undergone HGT with the phylogenetically distinct mycoides cluster, which is composed of significant ruminant pathogens. HGT involves genes often found as clusters, several of which encode lipoproteins that usually play an important role in mycoplasma–host interaction. A decayed form of a conjugative element also described in a member of the mycoides cluster was found in the M. agalactiae genome, suggesting that HGT may have occurred by mobilizing a related genetic element. The possibility of HGT events among other mycoplasmas was evaluated with the available sequenced genomes. Our data indicate marginal levels of HGT among Mycoplasma species except for those described above and, to a lesser extent, for those observed in between the two bird pathogens, M. gallisepticum and M. synoviae. This first description of large-scale HGT among mycoplasmas sharing the same ecological niche challenges the generally accepted evolutionary scenario in which gene loss is the main driving force of mycoplasma evolution. The latter clearly differs from that of other bacteria with small genomes, particularly obligate intracellular bacteria that are isolated within host cells. Consequently, mycoplasmas are not only able to subvert complex hosts but presumably have retained sexual competence, a trait that may prevent them from genome stasis and contribute to adaptation to new hosts.
Author Summary
Mycoplasmas are cell wall–lacking prokaryotes that evolved from ancestors common to Gram-positive bacteria by way of massive losses of genetic material. With their minimal genome, mycoplasmas are considered to be the simplest free-living organisms, yet several species are successful pathogens of man and animal. In this study, we challenged the commonly accepted view in which mycoplasma evolution is driven only by genome down-sizing. Indeed, we showed that a significant amount of genes underwent horizontal transfer among different mycoplasma species that share the same ruminant hosts. In these species, the occurrence of a genetic element that can promote DNA transfer via cell-to-cell contact suggests that some mycoplasmas may have retained or acquired sexual competence. Transferred genes were found to encode proteins that are likely to be associated with mycoplasma–host interactions. Sharing genetic resources via horizontal gene transfer may provide mycoplasmas with a means for adapting to new niches or to new hosts and for avoiding irreversible genome erosion.
PMCID: PMC1868952  PMID: 17511520
3.  Mycoplasma mycoides, from "mycoides Small Colony" to "capri". A microevolutionary perspective 
BMC Genomics  2011;12:114.
The Mycoplasma mycoides cluster consists of five species or subspecies that are ruminant pathogens. One subspecies, Mycoplasma mycoides subspecies mycoides Small Colony (MmmSC), is the causative agent of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia. Its very close relative, Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. capri (Mmc), is a more ubiquitous pathogen in small ruminants causing mastitis, arthritis, keratitis, pneumonia and septicaemia and is also found as saprophyte in the ear canal. To understand the genetics underlying these phenotypic differences, we compared the MmmSC PG1 type strain genome, which was already available, with the genome of an Mmc field strain (95010) that was sequenced in this study. We also compared the 95010 genome with the recently published genome of another Mmc strain (GM12) to evaluate Mmc strain diversity.
The MmmSC PG1 genome is 1,212 kbp and that of Mmc 95010 is ca. 58 kbp shorter. Most of the sequences present in PG1 but not 95010 are highly repeated Insertion Sequences (three types of IS) and large duplicated DNA fragments. The 95010 genome contains five types of IS, present in fewer copies than in PG1, and two copies of an integrative conjugative element. These mobile genetic elements have played a key role in genome plasticity, leading to inversions of large DNA fragments. Comparison of the two genomes suggested a marked decay of the PG1 genome that seems to be correlated with a greater number of IS. The repertoire of gene families encoding surface proteins is smaller in PG1. Several genes involved in polysaccharide metabolism and protein degradation are also absent from, or degraded in, PG1.
The genome of MmmSC PG1 is larger than that of Mmc 95010, its very close relative, but has less coding capacity. This is the result of large genetic rearrangements due to mobile elements that have also led to marked gene decay. This is consistent with a non-adaptative genomic complexity theory, allowing duplications or pseudogenes to be maintained in the absence of adaptive selection that would lead to purifying selection and genome streamlining over longer evolutionary times. These findings also suggest that MmmSC only recently adapted to its bovine host.
PMCID: PMC3053259  PMID: 21324191
4.  Distribution and diversity of mycoplasma plasmids: lessons from cryptic genetic elements 
BMC Microbiology  2012;12:257.
The evolution of mycoplasmas from a common ancestor with Firmicutes has been characterized not only by genome down-sizing but also by horizontal gene transfer between mycoplasma species sharing a common host. The mechanisms of these gene transfers remain unclear because our knowledge of the mycoplasma mobile genetic elements is limited. In particular, only a few plasmids have been described within the Mycoplasma genus.
We have shown that several species of ruminant mycoplasmas carry plasmids that are members of a large family of elements and replicate via a rolling-circle mechanism. All plasmids were isolated from species that either belonged or were closely related to the Mycoplasma mycoides cluster; none was from the Mycoplasma bovis-Mycoplasma agalactiae group. Twenty one plasmids were completely sequenced, named and compared with each other and with the five mycoplasma plasmids previously reported. All plasmids share similar size and genetic organization, and present a mosaic structure. A peculiar case is that of the plasmid pMyBK1 from M. yeatsii; it is larger in size and is predicted to be mobilizable. Its origin of replication and replication protein were identified. In addition, pMyBK1 derivatives were shown to replicate in various species of the M. mycoides cluster, and therefore hold considerable promise for developing gene vectors. The phylogenetic analysis of these plasmids confirms the uniqueness of pMyBK1 and indicates that the other mycoplasma plasmids cluster together, apart from the related replicons found in phytoplasmas and in species of the clade Firmicutes.
Our results unraveled a totally new picture of mycoplasma plasmids. Although they probably play a limited role in the gene exchanges that participate in mycoplasma evolution, they are abundant in some species. Evidence for the occurrence of frequent genetic recombination strongly suggests they are transmitted between species sharing a common host or niche.
PMCID: PMC3541243  PMID: 23145790
Mycoplasma,Plasmid,Replication,Rep protein,Gene transfer,Evolution,Expression vector,Mycoplasma mycoides,Mycoplasma capricolum,Mycoplasma yeatsii
5.  Chromosomal Transfers in Mycoplasmas: When Minimal Genomes Go Mobile 
mBio  2014;5(6):e01958-14.
Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is a main driving force of bacterial evolution and innovation. This phenomenon was long thought to be marginal in mycoplasmas, a large group of self-replicating bacteria characterized by minute genomes as a result of successive gene losses during evolution. Recent comparative genomic analyses challenged this paradigm, but the occurrence of chromosomal exchanges had never been formally addressed in mycoplasmas. Here, we demonstrated the conjugal transfer of large chromosomal regions within and among ruminant mycoplasma species, with the incorporation of the incoming DNA occurring by homologous recombination into the recipient chromosome. By combining classical mating experiments with high-throughput next-generation sequencing, we documented the transfer of almost every position of the mycoplasma chromosome. Mycoplasma conjugation relies on the occurrence of an integrative conjugative element (ICE) in at least one parent cell. While ICE propagates horizontally from ICE-positive to ICE-negative cells, chromosomal transfers (CTs) occurred in the opposite direction, from ICE-negative to ICE-positive cells, independently of ICE movement. These findings challenged the classical mechanisms proposed for other bacteria in which conjugative CTs are driven by conjugative elements, bringing into the spotlight a new means for rapid mycoplasma innovation. Overall, they radically change our current views concerning the evolution of mycoplasmas, with particularly far-reaching implications given that over 50 species are human or animal pathogens.
Horizontal gene transfers (HGT) shape bacterial genomes and are key contributors to microbial diversity and innovation. One main mechanism involves conjugation, a process that allows the simultaneous transfer of significant amounts of DNA upon cell-to-cell contact. Recognizing and deciphering conjugal mechanisms are thus essential in understanding the impact of gene flux on bacterial evolution. We addressed this issue in mycoplasmas, the smallest and simplest self-replicating bacteria. In these organisms, HGT was long thought to be marginal. We showed here that nearly every position of the Mycoplasma agalactiae chromosome could be transferred via conjugation, using an unconventional mechanism. The transfer involved DNA blocks containing up to 80 genes that were incorporated into the host chromosome by homologous recombination. These findings radically change our views concerning mycoplasma evolution and adaptation with particularly far-reaching implications given that over 50 species are human or animal pathogens.
PMCID: PMC4251992  PMID: 25425234
6.  Specific Evolution of F1-Like ATPases in Mycoplasmas 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e38793.
F1F0 ATPases have been identified in most bacteria, including mycoplasmas which have very small genomes associated with a host-dependent lifestyle. In addition to the typical operon of eight genes encoding genuine F1F0 ATPase (Type 1), we identified related clusters of seven genes in many mycoplasma species. Four of the encoded proteins have predicted structures similar to the α, β, γ and ε subunits of F1 ATPases and could form an F1-like ATPase. The other three proteins display no similarity to any other known proteins. Two of these proteins are probably located in the membrane, as they have three and twelve predicted transmembrane helices. Phylogenomic studies identified two types of F1-like ATPase clusters, Type 2 and Type 3, characterized by a rapid evolution of sequences with the conservation of structural features. Clusters encoding Type 2 and Type 3 ATPases were assumed to originate from the Hominis group of mycoplasmas. We suggest that Type 3 ATPase clusters may spread to other phylogenetic groups by horizontal gene transfer between mycoplasmas in the same host, based on phylogeny and genomic context. Functional analyses in the ruminant pathogen Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. mycoides showed that the Type 3 cluster genes were organized into an operon. Proteomic analyses demonstrated that the seven encoded proteins were produced during growth in axenic media. Mutagenesis and complementation studies demonstrated an association of the Type 3 cluster with a major ATPase activity of membrane fractions. Thus, despite their tendency toward genome reduction, mycoplasmas have evolved and exchanged specific F1-like ATPases with no known equivalent in other bacteria. We propose a model, in which the F1-like structure is associated with a hypothetical X0 sector located in the membrane of mycoplasma cells.
PMCID: PMC3369863  PMID: 22685606
7.  Genes Found Essential in Other Mycoplasmas Are Dispensable in Mycoplasma bovis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e97100.
Mycoplasmas are regarded to be useful models for studying the minimum genetic complement required for independent survival of an organism. Mycoplasma bovis is a globally distributed pathogen causing pneumonia, mastitis, arthritis, otitis media and reproductive tract disease, and genome sequences of three strains, the type strain PG45 and two strains isolated in China, have been published. In this study, several Tn4001 based transposon constructs were generated and used to create a M. bovis PG45 insertional mutant library. Direct genome sequencing of 319 independent insertions detected disruptions in 129 genes in M. bovis, 48 of which had homologues in Mycoplasma mycoides subspecies mycoides SC and 99 of which had homologues in Mycoplasma agalactiae. Sixteen genes found to be essential in previous studies on other mycoplasma species were found to be dispensable. Five of these genes have previously been predicted to be part of the core set of 153 essential genes in mycoplasmas. Thus this study has extended the list of non-essential genes of mycoplasmas from that previously generated by studies in other species.
PMCID: PMC4045577  PMID: 24897538
8.  Genetic and Serological Analysis of Lipoprotein LppA in Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. mycoides LC and Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. capri 
The genes encoding the 62-kDa lipoproteins from the Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. mycoides large-colony type (LC) strain Y-goat and the M. mycoides subsp. capri strain PG3 were cloned and analyzed by sequencing. These two lipoproteins have been named LppA[MmymyLC] and LppA[Mmyca], and their corresponding genes have been named lppA[MmymyLC] and lppA[Mmyca], respectively. The nucleotide and deduced amino acid sequences of these two lipoproteins showed a very high degree of similarity between these two mycoplasmas. Given the sequence data, LppA seems to fulfill the same structural functions as the previously described major lipoproteins P72 of M. mycoides subsp. mycoides small-colony type and P67 of the Mycoplasma species bovine group 7. Based on lppA gene sequences of M. mycoides subsp. mycoides LC and M. mycoides subsp. capri type strains, a specific PCR assay was developed so that it amplified this gene in all field strains of the two species analyzed in this study but not in the other members of the M. mycoides cluster. Analysis of the PCR-amplified lppA genes with frequently cutting restriction enzymes showed a certain degree of genetic variability which, however, did not cluster the two subspecies. This PCR therefore allows a rapid identification of M. mycoides subsp. mycoides LC and M. mycoides subsp. capri but does not distinguish between these two closely related subspecies. LppA was expressed in Escherichia coli K-12 and used for the production of polyclonal mouse antiserum. Antibodies against recombinant LppA[MmymyLC] reacted with a 62-kDa protein in all M. mycoides subsp. mycoides LC and M. mycoides subsp. capri type strains and field strains tested but not with the other members of the M. mycoides cluster, thus showing the antigenic specificity of LppA and further supporting the concept that a close relationship exists between these two mycoplasmas.
PMCID: PMC95691  PMID: 10066658
9.  Distinctive Repertoire of Contingency Genes Conferring Mutation- Based Phase Variation and Combinatorial Expression of Surface Lipoproteins in Mycoplasma capricolum subsp. capricolum of the Mycoplasma mycoides Phylogenetic Cluster†  
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;188(13):4926-4941.
The generation of surface variation among many divergent species of Mollicutes (mycoplasmas) occurs through stochastic expression patterns of diverse lipoprotein genes. The size and wide distribution of such variable gene sets in minimal (∼0.6- to 1.4-Mb) mycoplasmal genomes suggest their key role in the adaptation and survival of these wall-less monoderms. Diversity through variable genes is less clearly established among phylogenetically similar mycoplasmas, such as the Mycoplasma mycoides cluster of ruminant pathogens, which vary widely in host range and pathobiology. Using (i) genome sequences from two members of this clade, Mycoplasma capricolum subsp. capricolum and M. mycoides subsp. mycoides small colony biotype (SC), (ii) antibodies to specific peptide determinants of predicted M. capricolum subsp. capricolum gene products, and (iii) analysis of the membrane-associated proteome of M. capricolum subsp. capricolum, a novel set of six genes (vmcA to vmcF) expressing distinct Vmc (variable M. capricolum subsp. capricolum) lipoproteins is demonstrated. These occur at two separate loci in the M. capricolum subsp. capricolum genome, which shares striking overall similarity and gene synteny with the M. mycoides subsp. mycoides SC genome. Collectively, Vmc expression is noncoordinate and combinatorial, subject to a single-unit insertion/deletion in a 5′ flanking dinucleotide repeat that governs expression of each vmc gene. All vmc genes share modular regions affecting expression and membrane translocation. In contrast, vmcA to vmcD genes at one locus express surface proteins with highly structured size-variable repeating domains, whereas vmcE to vmcF genes express products with short repeats devoid of predicted structure. These genes confer a distinctive, dynamic surface architecture that may represent adaptive differences within this important group of pathogens as well as exploitable diagnostic targets.
PMCID: PMC1483001  PMID: 16788201
10.  A New Integrative Conjugative Element Occurs in Mycoplasma agalactiae as Chromosomal and Free Circular Forms 
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;188(11):4137-4141.
An integrative conjugative element, ICEA, was characterized in Mycoplasma agalactiae strain 5632, in which it occurs as multiple chromosomal copies and as a free circular form. The distribution of ICEA sequences in M. agalactiae strains and their occurrence in Mycoplasma bovis suggest the spreading of the element within or between species.
PMCID: PMC1482908  PMID: 16707706
11.  Variable Lipoprotein Genes of Mycoplasma agalactiae Are Activated In Vivo by Promoter Addition via Site-Specific DNA Inversions  
Infection and Immunity  2003;71(7):3821-3830.
Mycoplasma agalactiae, the etiological agent of contagious agalactia of small ruminants, has a family of related genes (avg genes) which encode surface lipoprotein antigens that undergo phase variation. A series of 13 M. agalactiae clonal isolates, obtained from one chronically infected animal over a period of 7 months, were found to undergo major rearrangement events within the avg genomic locus. We show that these rearrangements regulate the phase-variable expression of individual avg genes. Northern blot analysis and reverse transcription-PCR showed that only one avg gene is transcribed, while the other avg genes are transcriptionally silent. Sequence analysis and primer extension experiments with two M. agalactiae clonal isolates showed that a specific 182-bp avg 5′ upstream region (avg-B2) that is present as a single chromosomal copy serves as an active promoter and exhibits a high level of homology with the vsp promoter of the bovine pathogen Mycoplasma bovis. PCR analysis showed that each avg gene is associated with the avg-B2 promoter in a subpopulation of cells that is present in each subclone. Multiple sequence-specific sites for DNA recombination (vis-like), which are presumably recognized by site-specific recombinase, were identified within the conserved avg 5′ upstream regions of all avg genes and were found to be identical to the recombination sites of the M. bovis vsp locus. In addition, a gene encoding a member of the integrase family of tyrosine site-specific recombinases was identified adjacent to the variable avg locus. The molecular genetic basis for avg phase-variable expression appears to be mediated by site-specific DNA inversions occurring in vivo that allow activation of a silent avg gene by promoter addition. A model for the control of avg genes is proposed.
PMCID: PMC162021  PMID: 12819065
12.  Versatile Use of oriC Plasmids for Functional Genomics of Mycoplasma capricolum subsp. capricolum†  
Replicative oriC plasmids were recently developed for several mollicutes, including three Mycoplasma species belonging to the mycoides cluster that are responsible for bovine and caprine diseases: Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. mycoides small-colony type, Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. mycoides large-colony type, and Mycoplasma capricolum subsp. capricolum. In this study, oriC plasmids were evaluated in M. capricolum subsp. capricolum as genetic tools for (i) expression of heterologous proteins and (ii) gene inactivation by homologous recombination. The reporter gene lacZ, encoding β-galactosidase, and the gene encoding spiralin, an abundant surface lipoprotein of the related mollicute Spiroplasma citri, were successfully expressed. Functional Escherichia coli β-galactosidase was detected in transformed Mycoplasma capricolum subsp. capricolum cells despite noticeable codon usage differences. The expression of spiralin in M. capricolum subsp. capricolum was assessed by colony and Western blotting. Accessibility of this protein at the cell surface and its partition into the Triton X-114 detergent phase suggest a correct maturation of the spiralin precursor. The expression of a heterologous lipoprotein in a mycoplasma raises potentially interesting applications, e.g., the use of these bacteria as live vaccines. Targeted inactivation of gene lppA encoding lipoprotein A was achieved in M. capricolum subsp. capricolum with plasmids harboring a replication origin derived from S. citri. Our results suggest that the selection of the infrequent events of homologous recombination could be enhanced by the use of oriC plasmids derived from related mollicute species. Mycoplasma gene inactivation opens the way to functional genomics in a group of bacteria for which a large wealth of genome data are already available and steadily growing.
PMCID: PMC1151838  PMID: 15932982
13.  Phylogeny of the Mycoplasma mycoides cluster as determined by sequence analysis of the 16S rRNA genes from the two rRNA operons. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1996;178(14):4131-4142.
The so-called Mycoplasma mycoides cluster consists of six species or subspecies of mycoplasmas (Mollicutes). These species are pathogenic for ruminants and some of them are of great concern in veterinary medicine. The members of the M. mycoides cluster have two rRNA operons (rrnA and rrnB). The nucleotide sequences of the 16S rRNA genes of 10 strains, representing all of the known species and subspecies of the M. mycoides cluster, were determined by direct automated solid-phase DNA sequencing. The sequences of both rRNA operons were determined by a novel strategy involving in vitro amplification by PCR with one operon-specific primer pair and one general primer pair. Interestingly, sequence differences (polymorphisms) between the two operons were observed for all strains. Two strains of M. capricolum subsp. capripneumoniae were sequenced, and 15 polymorphisms were found in the type strain (F38) and 17 polymorphisms were found in the other strain (4/2LC). Eight polymorphisms were found in the 16S rRNA genes of the M. mycoides subsp. mycoides small-colony type, and sequence length variations in a poly(A) region were observed in the 16S rRNA genes of the two operons of this species. Secondary-structure analysis showed that polymorphisms were present in both stem and loop regions. The nucleotide substitutions in the polymorphic sites of the stem regions often resulted in a change from a canonical to a noncanonical base pairing or vice versa. A compensatory mutation was never observed in the other nucleotide of the base pair. Phylogenetic analysis based on the 16S rRNA sequences indicated that Mycoplasma sp. strain PG50 should be included in the M. capricolum species group. Furthermore, the 16S rRNA sequences of M. mycoides subsp. capri and the M. mycoides subsp. mycoides large-colony type were 99.9% identical. We therefore suggest that these species be reclassified in a common species group (for instance, "Mycoplasma capri") distinct from the M. mycoides subsp. mycoides small-colony type, which formed an intermediate branch between the M. capricolum species group and the M. capri species group.
PMCID: PMC178170  PMID: 8763941
14.  IS1634, a Novel Insertion Element Creating Long, Variable-Length Direct Repeats Which Is Specific for Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. mycoides Small-Colony Type 
Journal of Bacteriology  1999;181(4):1319-1323.
A new insertion sequence, IS1634, has been identified in Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. mycoides small-colony type (SC). IS1634 shows structural and functional similarities to IS1549 of Mycobacterium smegmatis and with it seems to form a new class or family of insertion sequences. IS1634 has a size of 1,872 bp, including two 13-bp terminal inverted repeats. It contains an open reading frame (ORF) encoding a product of 533 amino acids which shows similarity to the transposase of IS1549 and to a lesser extent to the transposases of IS elements of the IS4 family. IS1634 is present at about 30 copies in the genome of all 22 different field strains of M. mycoides subsp. mycoides SC tested. Characteristic of IS1634 are the long and variable-length direct repeats at the sites of insertion which were found to reach up to about 500 bp. IS1634 is specific to M. mycoides subsp. mycoides SC and is not present in any of the other members of the M. mycoides cluster. Neither was it found in other closely related Mycoplasma species of ruminants.
PMCID: PMC93511  PMID: 9973360
15.  Critical Role of Dispensable Genes in Mycoplasma agalactiae Interaction with Mammalian Cells▿  
Infection and Immunity  2010;78(4):1542-1551.
Mycoplasmas are minimal bacteria whose genomes barely exceed the smallest amount of information required to sustain autonomous life. Despite this apparent simplicity, several mycoplasmas are successful pathogens of humans and animals, in which they establish intimate interactions with epithelial cells at mucosal surfaces. To identify biological functions mediating mycoplasma interactions with mammalian cells, we produced a library of transposon knockout mutants in the ruminant pathogen Mycoplasma agalactiae and used this library to identify mutants displaying a growth-deficient pheonotype in cell culture. M. agalactiae mutants displaying a 3-fold reduction in CFU titers to nearly complete extinction in coculture with HeLa cells were identified. Mapping of transposon insertion sites revealed 18 genomic regions putatively involved in the interaction of M. agalactiae with HeLa cells. Several of these regions encode proteins with features of membrane lipoproteins and/or were involved in horizontal gene transfer with phylogenetically distant pathogenic mycoplasmas of ruminants. Two mutants with the most extreme phenotype carry a transposon in a genomic region designated the NIF locus which encodes homologues of SufS and SufU, two proteins presumably involved in [Fe-S] cluster biosynthesis in Gram-positive bacteria. Complementation studies confirmed the conditional essentiality of the NIF locus, which was found to be critical for proliferation in the presence of HeLa cells and several other mammalian cell lines but dispensable for axenic growth. While our results raised questions regarding essential functions in mycoplasmas, they also provide a means for studying the role of mycoplasmas as minimal pathogens.
PMCID: PMC2849427  PMID: 20123713
16.  Genome-Scale Analysis of Mycoplasma agalactiae Loci Involved in Interaction with Host Cells 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e25291.
Mycoplasma agalactiae is an important pathogen of small ruminants, in which it causes contagious agalactia. It belongs to a large group of “minimal bacteria” with a small genome and reduced metabolic capacities that are dependent on their host for nutrients. Mycoplasma survival thus relies on intimate contact with host cells, but little is known about the factors involved in these interactions or in the more general infectious process. To address this issue, an assay based on goat epithelial and fibroblastic cells was used to screen a M. agalactiae knockout mutant library. Mutants with reduced growth capacities in cell culture were selected and 62 genomic loci were identified as contributing to this phenotype. As expected for minimal bacteria, “transport and metabolism” was the functional category most commonly implicated in this phenotype, but 50% of the selected mutants were disrupted in coding sequences (CDSs) with unknown functions, with surface lipoproteins being most commonly represented in this category. Since mycoplasmas lack a cell wall, lipoproteins are likely to be important in interactions with the host. A few intergenic regions were also identified that may act as regulatory sequences under co-culture conditions. Interestingly, some mutants mapped to gene clusters that are highly conserved across mycoplasma species but located in different positions. One of these clusters was found in a transcriptionally active region of the M. agalactiae chromosome, downstream of a cryptic promoter. A possible scenario for the evolution of these loci is discussed. Finally, several CDSs identified here are conserved in other important pathogenic mycoplasmas, and some were involved in horizontal gene transfer with phylogenetically distant species. These results provide a basis for further deciphering functions mediating mycoplasma-host interactions.
PMCID: PMC3179502  PMID: 21966487
17.  Emergence of Atypical Mycoplasma agalactiae Strains Harboring a New Prophage and Associated with an Alpine Wild Ungulate Mortality Episode 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(13):4659-4668.
The bacterium Mycoplasma agalactiae is responsible for contagious agalactia (CA) in small domestic ruminants, a syndrome listed by the World Organization for Animal Health and responsible for severe damage to the dairy industry. Recently, we frequently isolated this pathogen from lung lesions of ibexes during a mortality episode in the French Alps. This situation was unusual in terms of host specificity and tissue tropism, raising the question of M. agalactiae emergence in wildlife. To address this issue, the ibex isolates were characterized using a combination of approaches that included antigenic profiles, molecular typing, optical mapping, and whole-genome sequencing. Genome analyses showed the presence of a new, large prophage containing 35 coding sequences (CDS) that was detected in most but not all ibex strains and has a homolog in Mycoplasma conjunctivae, a species causing keratoconjunctivitis in wild ungulates. This and the presence in all strains of large integrated conjugative elements suggested highly dynamic genomes. Nevertheless, M. agalactiae strains circulating in the ibex population were shown to be highly related, most likely originating from a single parental clone that has also spread to another wild ungulate species of the same geographical area, the chamois. These strains clearly differ from strains described in Europe so far, including those found nearby, before CA eradication a few years ago. While M. agalactiae pathogenicity in ibexes remains unclear, our data showed the emergence of atypical strains in Alpine wild ungulates, raising the question of a role for the wild fauna as a potential reservoir of pathogenic mycoplasmas.
PMCID: PMC3370481  PMID: 22522685
18.  The Complete Genome Sequence of Mycoplasma bovis Strain Hubei-1 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e20999.
Infection by Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis) can induce diseases, such as pneumonia and otitis media in young calves and mastitis and arthritis in older animals. Here, we report the finished and annotated genome sequence of M. bovis strain Hubei-1, a strain isolated in 2008 that caused calf pneumonia on a Chinese farm. The genome of M. bovis strain Hubei-1 contains a single circular chromosome of 953,114 bp with a 29.37% GC content. We identified 803 open reading frames (ORFs) that occupy 89.5% of the genome. While 34 ORFs were Hubei-1 specific, 662 ORFs had orthologs in the M. bovis type strain PG45 genome. Genome analysis validated lateral gene transfer between M. bovis and the Mycoplasma mycoides subspecies mycoides, while phylogenetic analysis found that the closest M. bovis neighbor is Mycoplasma agalactiae. Glycerol may be the main carbon and energy source of M. bovis, and most of the biosynthesis pathways were incomplete. We report that 47 lipoproteins, 12 extracellular proteins and 18 transmembrane proteins are phase-variable and may help M. bovis escape the immune response. Besides lipoproteins and phase-variable proteins, genomic analysis found two possible pathogenicity islands, which consist of four genes and 11 genes each, and several other virulence factors including hemolysin, lipoate protein ligase, dihydrolipoamide dehydrogenase, extracellular cysteine protease and 5′-nucleotidase.
PMCID: PMC3120828  PMID: 21731639
19.  Molecular Biology and Pathogenicity of Mycoplasmas 
The recent sequencing of the entire genomes of Mycoplasma genitalium and M. pneumoniae has attracted considerable attention to the molecular biology of mycoplasmas, the smallest self-replicating organisms. It appears that we are now much closer to the goal of defining, in molecular terms, the entire machinery of a self-replicating cell. Comparative genomics based on comparison of the genomic makeup of mycoplasmal genomes with those of other bacteria, has opened new ways of looking at the evolutionary history of the mycoplasmas. There is now solid genetic support for the hypothesis that mycoplasmas have evolved as a branch of gram-positive bacteria by a process of reductive evolution. During this process, the mycoplasmas lost considerable portions of their ancestors’ chromosomes but retained the genes essential for life. Thus, the mycoplasmal genomes carry a high percentage of conserved genes, greatly facilitating gene annotation. The significant genome compaction that occurred in mycoplasmas was made possible by adopting a parasitic mode of life. The supply of nutrients from their hosts apparently enabled mycoplasmas to lose, during evolution, the genes for many assimilative processes. During their evolution and adaptation to a parasitic mode of life, the mycoplasmas have developed various genetic systems providing a highly plastic set of variable surface proteins to evade the host immune system. The uniqueness of the mycoplasmal systems is manifested by the presence of highly mutable modules combined with an ability to expand the antigenic repertoire by generating structural alternatives, all compressed into limited genomic sequences. In the absence of a cell wall and a periplasmic space, the majority of surface variable antigens in mycoplasmas are lipoproteins. Apart from providing specific antimycoplasmal defense, the host immune system is also involved in the development of pathogenic lesions and exacerbation of mycoplasma induced diseases. Mycoplasmas are able to stimulate as well as suppress lymphocytes in a nonspecific, polyclonal manner, both in vitro and in vivo. As well as to affecting various subsets of lymphocytes, mycoplasmas and mycoplasma-derived cell components modulate the activities of monocytes/macrophages and NK cells and trigger the production of a wide variety of up-regulating and down-regulating cytokines and chemokines. Mycoplasma-mediated secretion of proinflammatory cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor alpha, interleukin-1 (IL-1), and IL-6, by macrophages and of up-regulating cytokines by mitogenically stimulated lymphocytes plays a major role in mycoplasma-induced immune system modulation and inflammatory responses.
PMCID: PMC98941  PMID: 9841667
20.  The complete genomic sequence of Mycoplasma penetrans, an intracellular bacterial pathogen in humans 
Nucleic Acids Research  2002;30(23):5293-5300.
The complete genomic sequence of an intracellular bacterial pathogen, Mycoplasma penetrans HF-2 strain, was determined. The HF-2 genome consists of a 1 358 633 bp single circular chromosome containing 1038 predicted coding sequences (CDSs), one set of rRNA genes and 30 tRNA genes. Among the 1038 CDSs, 264 predicted proteins are common to the Mycoplasmataceae sequenced thus far and 463 are M.penetrans specific. The genome contains the two-component system but lacks the essential cellular gene, uridine kinase. The relatively large genome of M.penetrans HF-2 among mycoplasma species may be accounted for by both its rich core proteome and the presence of a number of paralog families corresponding to 25.4% of all CDSs. The largest paralog family is the p35 family, which encodes surface lipoproteins including the major antigen, P35. A total of 44 genes for p35 and p35 homologs were identified and 30 of them form one large cluster in the chromosome. The genetic tree of p35 paralogs suggests the occurrence of dynamic chromosomal rearrangement in paralog formation during evolution. Thus, M.penetrans HF-2 may have acquired diverse repertoires of antigenic variation-related genes to allow its persistent infection in humans.
PMCID: PMC137978  PMID: 12466555
21.  Characterization of P40, a Cytadhesin of Mycoplasma agalactiae  
Infection and Immunity  2002;70(10):5612-5621.
An immunodominant protein, P40, of Mycoplasma agalactiae was analyzed genetically and functionally. The gene encoding P40 was cloned from type strain PG2, sequenced, submitted to point mutagenesis in order to convert mycoplasma-specific TGATrp codon to the universal TGGTrp codon, and subsequently expressed in Escherichia coli. Nucleotide sequence-derived amino acid sequence comparisons revealed a similarity of P40 to the adhesin P50 of Mycoplasma hominis and to protein P89 of Spiroplasma citri, which is expected to be involved in adhesion. The amino acid sequence of P40 revealed a recognition site for a signal peptidase and strong antigenic and hydrophilic motifs in the C-terminal domain. Triton X-114 phase partitioning confirmed that P40 is a membrane protein. Fab fragments of antibodies directed against recombinant purified P40 significantly inhibited adherence of M. agalactiae strains PG2 to lamb joint synovial cells LSM 192. Sera taken sequentially from sheep infected with PG2 revealed that P40 induced a strong and persistent immune response that gave strong signals on immunoblots containing recombinant P40 even 3 months after infection. The gene encoding P40 was present in a single copy in all of the 26 field strains of M. agalactiae analyzed and was not detected in closely related mycoplasma species. P40 was expressed as a protein with an apparent molecular mass of 37 kDa on sodium dodecyl sulfate-acrylamide gels by all M. agalactiae strains except for serotype C strains, which showed nonsense mutations in their p40 genes.
PMCID: PMC128363  PMID: 12228289
22.  Characterization and Analysis of a Stable Serotype-Associated Membrane Protein (P30) of Mycoplasma agalactiae 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2001;39(8):2814-2822.
The gene for a 30-kDa immunodominant antigen, P30, of Mycoplasma agalactiae was cloned from type strain PG2 and expressed in Escherichia coli. P30 is encoded on a monocistronic operon determined by two −10 boxes and a possible −35 region constituting the potential promoter, and a transcription termination site. The gene for the 266-amino-acid protein is preceded by a polypurine-rich region designed as the consensus sequence for a ribosome-binding site. Analysis of the amino acid sequence of P30 revealed the presence of a recognition site for a prokaryotic signal peptidase II at amino acid (aa) 24, indicating that P30 is a transmembrane protein. Moreover, Triton X-114 phase partitioning of M. agalactiae PG2 total antigen revealed that P30 is strongly hydrophobic and hence a possible membrane component. Immunoblot analysis using the monospecific polyclonal anti-P30-His serum indicated that P30 is specific to M. agalactiae. Furthermore, PCR amplification with specific primers for p30 and Southern blot analysis revealed the presence of the gene in all M. agalactiae strains tested and its absence in the other mycoplasma species. Among 27 strains of M. agalactiae studied, 20 strains belonging to the common serotypes A to D, including PG2, expressed P30 or part of it as detected by the monospecific polyclonal anti-P30 antibodies. The other seven strains belonging to the rarely isolated serotypes E to H were negative for P30. The p30 gene was sequenced in 15 strains of M. agalactiae, 10 of which expressed P30 or at least part of it and 5 of which did not express P30. The negative strains carried mutations in both −10 boxes of the promoters. These mutations seem to be responsible for the lack of P30 expression in these strains. Analysis of sera from sheep that were experimentally infected with M. agalactiae revealed that P30 induced a strong and persistent immune response which was still very high two months after infection. In contrast, currently used enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay serology gave only low titers.
PMCID: PMC88244  PMID: 11473997
23.  Homologue of Macrophage-Activating Lipoprotein in Mycoplasma gallisepticum Is Not Essential for Growth and Pathogenicity in Tracheal Organ Cultures 
Journal of Bacteriology  2003;185(8):2538-2547.
While the genomes of a number of Mycoplasma species have been fully determined, there has been limited characterization of which genes are essential. The surface protein (p47) identified by monoclonal antibody B3 is the basis for an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay for serological detection of Mycoplasma gallisepticum infection and appears to be constitutively expressed. Its gene was cloned, and the DNA sequence was determined. Subsequent analysis of the p47 amino acid sequence and searches of DNA databases found homologous gene sequences in the genomes of M. pneumoniae and M. genitalium and identity with a gene family in Ureaplasma urealyticum and genes in M. agalactiae and M. fermentans. The proteins encoded by these genes were found to belong to a family of basic membrane proteins (BMP) that are found in a wide range of bacteria, including a number of pathogens. Several of the BMP family members, including p47, contain selective lipoprotein-associated motifs that are found in macrophage-activating lipoprotein 404 of M. fermentans and lipoprotein P48 of M. agalactiae. The p47 gene was predicted to encode a 59-kDa peptide, but affinity-purified p47 had a molecular mass of approximately 47 kDa, as determined by polyacrylamide gel analysis. Analysis of native and recombinant p47 by mass peptide fingerprinting revealed the absence of the carboxyl end of the protein encoded by the p47 gene in native p47, which would account for the difference seen in the predicted and measured molecular weights and indicated posttranslational cleavage of the lipoprotein at its carboxyl end. A DNA construct containing the p47 gene interrupted by the gene encoding tetracycline resistance was used to transform M. gallisepticum cells. A tetracycline-resistant mycoplasma clone, P2, contained the construct inserted within the genomic p47 gene, with crossovers occurring between 73 bp upstream and 304 bp downstream of the inserted tetracycline resistance gene. The absence of p47 protein in clone P2 was determined by the lack of reactivity with rabbit anti-p47 sera or monoclonal antibody B3 in Western blots of whole-cell proteins. There was no difference between the p47− mutant and wild-type M. gallisepticum in pathogenicity in chicken tracheal organ cultures. Thus, p47, although homologous to genes that occur in many prokaryotes, is not essential for growth in vitro or for attachment and the initial stages of pathogenesis in chickens.
PMCID: PMC152605  PMID: 12670978
24.  New insights on the biology of swine respiratory tract mycoplasmas from a comparative genome analysis 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:175.
Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae, Mycoplasma flocculare and Mycoplasma hyorhinis live in swine respiratory tracts. M. flocculare, a commensal bacterium, is genetically closely related to M. hyopneumoniae, the causative agent of enzootic porcine pneumonia. M. hyorhinis is also pathogenic, causing polyserositis and arthritis. In this work, we present the genome sequences of M. flocculare and M. hyopneumoniae strain 7422, and we compare these genomes with the genomes of other M. hyoponeumoniae strain and to the a M. hyorhinis genome. These analyses were performed to identify possible characteristics that may help to explain the different behaviors of these species in swine respiratory tracts.
The overall genome organization of three species was analyzed, revealing that the ORF clusters (OCs) differ considerably and that inversions and rearrangements are common. Although M. flocculare and M. hyopneumoniae display a high degree of similarity with respect to the gene content, only some genomic regions display considerable synteny. Genes encoding proteins that may be involved in host-cell adhesion in M. hyopneumoniae and M. flocculare display differences in genomic structure and organization. Some genes encoding adhesins of the P97 family are absent in M. flocculare and some contain sequence differences or lack of domains that are considered to be important for adhesion to host cells. The phylogenetic relationship of the three species was confirmed by a phylogenomic approach. The set of genes involved in metabolism, especially in the uptake of precursors for nucleic acids synthesis and nucleotide metabolism, display some differences in copy number and the presence/absence in the three species.
The comparative analyses of three mycoplasma species that inhabit the swine respiratory tract facilitated the identification of some characteristics that may be related to their different behaviors. M. hyopneumoniae and M. flocculare display many differences that may help to explain why one species is pathogenic and the other is considered to be commensal. However, it was not possible to identify specific virulence determinant factors that could explain the differences in the pathogenicity of the analyzed species. The M. hyorhinis genome contains differences in some components involved in metabolism and evasion of the host’s immune system that may contribute to its growth aggressiveness. Several horizontal gene transfer events were identified. The phylogenomic analysis places M. hyopneumoniae, M. flocculare and M. hyorhinis in the hyopneumoniae clade.
PMCID: PMC3610235  PMID: 23497205
Mycoplasma; Comparative genomics; Adhesins; Swine respiratory tract
25.  The liposoluble proteome of Mycoplasma agalactiae: an insight into the minimal protein complement of a bacterial membrane 
BMC Microbiology  2010;10:225.
Mycoplasmas are the simplest bacteria capable of autonomous replication. Their evolution proceeded from gram-positive bacteria, with the loss of many biosynthetic pathways and of the cell wall. In this work, the liposoluble protein complement of Mycoplasma agalactiae, a minimal bacterial pathogen causing mastitis, polyarthritis, keratoconjunctivitis, and abortion in small ruminants, was subjected to systematic characterization in order to gain insights into its membrane proteome composition.
The selective enrichment for M. agalactiae PG2T liposoluble proteins was accomplished by means of Triton X-114 fractionation. Liposoluble proteins were subjected to 2-D PAGE-MS, leading to the identification of 40 unique proteins and to the generation of a reference 2D map of the M. agalactiae liposoluble proteome. Liposoluble proteins from the type strain PG2 and two field isolates were then compared by means of 2D DIGE, revealing reproducible differences in protein expression among isolates. An in-depth analysis was then performed by GeLC-MS/MS in order to achieve a higher coverage of the liposoluble proteome. Using this approach, a total of 194 unique proteins were identified, corresponding to 26% of all M. agalactiae PG2T genes. A gene ontology analysis and classification for localization and function was also carried out on all protein identifications. Interestingly, the 11.5% of expressed membrane proteins derived from putative horizontal gene transfer events.
This study led to the in-depth systematic characterization of the M. agalactiae liposoluble protein component, providing useful insights into its membrane organization.
PMCID: PMC2941501  PMID: 20738845

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