Mycoplasma vs. Phytoplasma

What's the Difference?

Mycoplasma and Phytoplasma are both types of bacteria that lack a cell wall, making them unique among bacteria. However, they differ in their habitats and effects on organisms. Mycoplasma primarily infects animals, including humans, and can cause various diseases such as pneumonia and urinary tract infections. On the other hand, Phytoplasma infects plants and is responsible for diseases like aster yellows and citrus greening. Both bacteria are difficult to detect and control due to their small size and ability to evade the immune system.


Cell TypeProkaryoticProkaryotic
Size0.2-0.8 μm0.2-0.8 μm
Cell WallLacks cell wallLacks cell wall
Host RangeAnimalsPlants
Disease SymptomsRespiratory, urogenital, and other infectionsYellowing, stunting, and other plant deformities
TransmissionDirect contact, respiratory droplets, sexual contactInsect vectors (leafhoppers, planthoppers)
GenomeSmall, compact genomeSmall, compact genome
MetabolismParasitic, dependent on host for nutrientsParasitic, dependent on host for nutrients

Further Detail


Mycoplasma and phytoplasma are two types of bacteria that belong to the class Mollicutes. While they share some similarities, they also have distinct characteristics that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the attributes of both Mycoplasma and Phytoplasma, highlighting their differences and similarities.

Cellular Structure

Mycoplasma and phytoplasma both lack a cell wall, making them unique among bacteria. This absence of a cell wall allows them to adopt various shapes, including spherical, filamentous, or pleomorphic. However, Mycoplasma possesses a plasma membrane that encloses its cytoplasm, while phytoplasma lacks a true plasma membrane and instead has a membrane-like structure called a unit membrane.

Host Range

Mycoplasma and phytoplasma differ significantly in terms of their host range. Mycoplasma primarily infects animals, including humans, birds, and mammals, causing diseases such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and sexually transmitted infections. In contrast, phytoplasma infects plants, causing devastating diseases in a wide range of crops, including fruits, vegetables, and ornamental plants.


Both Mycoplasma and phytoplasma can be transmitted through various means. Mycoplasma is commonly spread through direct contact with infected individuals, respiratory droplets, or sexual contact. It can also be transmitted vertically from mother to offspring. Phytoplasma, on the other hand, is primarily transmitted by insect vectors, such as leafhoppers, planthoppers, and psyllids. These insects feed on infected plants and carry the bacteria to healthy plants, spreading the disease.


The genomes of Mycoplasma and phytoplasma also exhibit notable differences. Mycoplasma has a relatively small genome, typically ranging from 0.58 to 2.2 million base pairs. This compact genome contains a limited number of genes, reflecting its parasitic lifestyle and reliance on host resources. In contrast, phytoplasma has a larger genome, ranging from 0.6 to 2.7 million base pairs. This expanded genome allows phytoplasma to encode a wider array of genes involved in interactions with plants and insects.


Both Mycoplasma and phytoplasma have unique metabolic characteristics. Mycoplasma lacks a cell wall and possesses a limited set of metabolic pathways. As a result, it is often dependent on its host for essential nutrients, such as amino acids and nucleotides. In contrast, phytoplasma has a more versatile metabolism, capable of synthesizing a broader range of molecules. However, phytoplasma still relies on its plant host for certain nutrients, particularly carbohydrates.

Disease Symptoms

The diseases caused by Mycoplasma and phytoplasma exhibit distinct symptoms. Mycoplasma infections in animals can lead to a variety of symptoms, including respiratory distress, fever, fatigue, and joint pain. In humans, Mycoplasma pneumoniae is a common cause of atypical pneumonia. Phytoplasma infections in plants, on the other hand, result in a range of symptoms known as "phytoplasma diseases." These symptoms can include stunted growth, yellowing or reddening of leaves, witches' broom (excessive branching), and abnormal flower development.

Diagnosis and Control

Diagnosing and controlling Mycoplasma and phytoplasma infections require different approaches. Mycoplasma infections in animals can be diagnosed through various methods, including serological tests, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and culture techniques. Treatment typically involves the use of antibiotics specific to Mycoplasma species. In contrast, diagnosing phytoplasma diseases in plants can be challenging due to their microscopic size and genetic diversity. Techniques such as PCR, DNA sequencing, and insect vector monitoring are employed for detection. Control measures for phytoplasma diseases often involve the removal and destruction of infected plants, insect vector management, and the use of resistant plant varieties.


In conclusion, Mycoplasma and phytoplasma are two distinct types of bacteria with different cellular structures, host ranges, transmission methods, genomes, metabolisms, and disease symptoms. While Mycoplasma primarily infects animals and relies on direct contact or respiratory droplets for transmission, phytoplasma infects plants and is primarily transmitted by insect vectors. Understanding the attributes of these bacteria is crucial for effective diagnosis, prevention, and control of the diseases they cause in both animals and plants.

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