Persistence of functional protein domains in mycoplasma species and their role in host specificity and synthetic minimal life

Tjerko Kamminga, Jasper J. Koehorst, Paul Vermeij, Simen Jan Slagman, Vitor A.P.M. dos Santos, Jetta J.E. Bijlsma, Peter J. Schaap*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Mycoplasmas are the smallest self-replicating organisms and obligate parasites of a specific vertebrate host. An in-depth analysis of the functional capabilities of mycoplasma species is fundamental to understand how some of simplest forms of life on Earth succeeded in subverting complex hosts with highly sophisticated immune systems. In this study we present a genome-scale comparison, focused on identification of functional protein domains, of 80 publically available mycoplasma genomes which were consistently re-annotated using a standardized annotation pipeline embedded in a semantic framework to keep track of the data provenance. We examined the pan- and core-domainome and studied predicted functional capability in relation to host specificity and phylogenetic distance. We show that the pan- and core-domainome of mycoplasma species is closed. A comparison with the proteome of the "minimal" synthetic bacterium JCVI-Syn3.0 allowed us to classify domains and proteins essential for minimal life. Many of those essential protein domains, essential Domains of Unknown Function (DUFs) and essential hypothetical proteins are not persistent across mycoplasma genomes suggesting that mycoplasma species support alternative domain configurations that bypass their essentiality. Based on the protein domain composition, we could separate mycoplasma species infecting blood and tissue. For selected genomes of tissue infecting mycoplasmas, we could also predict whether the host is ruminant, pig or human. Functionally closely related mycoplasma species, which have a highly similar protein domain repertoire, but different hosts could not be separated. This study provides a concise overview of the functional capabilities of mycoplasma species, which can be used as a basis to further understand host-pathogen interaction or to design synthetic minimal life.
Original languageEnglish
Article number31
JournalFrontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Genome comparison
  • Host specificity
  • Minimal genome
  • Mollicutes
  • Mycoplasma
  • Niche specificity
  • Protein domains
  • Protein metabolism


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