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What is Mycoplasma?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Mycoplasma is a bacterial genus which contains over 100 species. Most of the species are harmless, but several appear to be virulent, and have been linked with specific medical conditions in humans. These bacteria are extremely small, with a very basic genome which contains only the basic information needed for life. The stripped-down nature of Mycoplasma bacteria forces many of them to be parasitic, because they cannot survive on their own.

These bacteria were first isolated and described in the late 1800s, although early researchers were unable to specifically identify the bacteria in their isolates. However, they knew that the isolated material they had refined in the lab contained bacteria, even if they couldn't see it, and this laid the groundwork for additional research with better microscopes and scientific imaging devices which allowed researchers to eventually identify the bacteria.

One interesting thing about bacteria in this genus is that they have no cell walls. Their lack of cell walls causes them to have a very elastic shape which can vary at any given time, one of the reasons it was so difficult to isolate and confirm the presence of Mycoplasma in the laboratory. These bacteria are also less susceptible to many commonly used drugs, since antibiotics often target the cell wall, and Mycoplasma have no cell walls to grab on to.

These gram negative bacteria often contaminate cell cultures in the laboratory, creating colonies with a distinctive fried-egg appearance caused by a concentration of bacteria in the middle of the colony, and a scattering around the edges. Viewed under the microscope, the dense concentration resembles the yolk of a fried egg, while the thinner population around the edges looks like the white.

One Mycoplasma species, M. pneumoniae, causes atypical pneumonia, also known as walking pneumonia. Other species have been linked with pelvic inflammatory disease, more general respiratory infections, and several chronic diseases. In people with conditions like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, unusually high numbers of Mycoplasma bacteria have been noted, suggesting that the bacteria may be playing a role in the condition. Some research has also implicated the bacteria in autoimmune disorders.

Although these bacteria are not as vulnerable to antibiotics as one might wish, there are several drugs which can be used to treat Mycoplasma infection very successfully. In a mild infection, the body will often fight the bacteria off on its own, requiring little support. For more severe infections, an array of antibiotic drugs are available.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon265624 — On May 02, 2012

Acai or something else high in anti oxidants because this mycoplasma has to make the cell do its energy work even though it can reproduce outside.

By lighth0se33 — On Jul 10, 2011

@seag47 - I also have fibromyalgia, and the news that I have plenty of mycoplasma in my body was a shock to me as well. I guess since not a lot of research has been done on our condition, they haven't been able to come up with a cure.

I have a friend with Crohn's disease, and he says mycoplasma plays a part in his illness. That same friend's third cousin has Gulf War Illness, and it is also thought to be related to mycoplasma as well. This little shape-shifting bacteria really can do a wide range of damage in humans!

By seag47 — On Jul 09, 2011

I live each day coping with fibromyalgia, but I did not know until reading this that bacteria are most likely present in my body. It's kind of a relief to know that there is some reason behind my constant fatigue and muscle stiffness.

I wake up each day just as tired as before I went to sleep. I alternate between depression and anxiety, but the worst part is always feeling like I have no energy to do anything. My chores overwhelm me, and work is a challenge.

The only exercise I can stand to do is warm water exercise. I workout in my pool in the summertime, and the gentleness of the workout relaxes my muscles, as well as my mind.

I find it strange that mycoplasma are so prevalent in individuals with fibromyalgia, yet we are not treated to remove the bacteria. There is no known cure for fibromyalgia.

By OeKc05 — On Jul 08, 2011

I had mycoplasma pneumonia two years ago. I am a teacher, and we had an outbreak of it at our school. At first, I thought I just had a regular cold, but as my symptoms worsened from just a sore throat to a fever, cough, and chills, I knew I had go to the doctor.

My doctor swabbed my throat and did a blood culture. She discovered that I had walking pneumonia. I had to miss work for ten days, because it is contagious. If I had coughed or sneezed on a student, they could have become ill.

I was told that it would go away on its own if I got plenty of rest, drank lots of fluids, and took acetaminophen to lower the fever. However, my doctor suggested I take antibiotics to speed up the recovery process. I was all for that, because walking pneumonia made me miserable.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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