Mycoplasma vs Mycobacterium: Difference and Comparison

Key Takeaways

  1. Mycoplasma are the smallest self-replicating bacteria, while mycobacteria are rod-shaped bacteria.
  2. Mycoplasma lack a cell wall which makes them resistant to some antibiotics while mycobacteria have a tough, waxy cell wall.
  3. Mycoplasma infections are less serious while mycobacteria like TB are major causes of human disease.

What is Mycoplasma?

Mycoplasma is a genus of bacteria that belongs to the class Mollicutes. It lacks a cell wall and has a distinct shape and flexibility, which allows it to pass through filters. It also employs strategies like antigenic variation, shedding surface proteins and modulation of host immune responses to evade the host immune system.


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Mycoplasma often relies on the host for essential biosynthetic pathways, including synthesizing amino acids, nucleotides and vitamins. It also develops specific strategies to obtain nutrients from the host, such as scavenging cholesterol or glycerol from the surrounding environment.

These species are found in different environments, including humans, animals and plants. Some species naturally inhabit the human body without causing any harm, whereas some can cause infections in individuals with low immunity. 

Mycoplasma is a unique model organism to study fundamental biological processes like cellular biology, genetics and antibiotic resistance. It has also been essential to study biotechnology applications like the production of recombinant proteins and the development of gene expression systems.

However, Mycoplasma is relatively small and lacks a cell wall, so it s difficult to detect and cultivate in the laboratory. Therefore, specialized techniques and growth media are required to culture these bacteria successfully. 

What is Mycobacterium?

Mycobacterium belongs to the species Actinobacteria. It is characterized by its unique cell wall structure that contains mycolic acids and its slow growth rate. These bacteria have an extended generation time which contributes to the chronic nature of mycobacterial infections, as it can take weeks or months for symptoms to appear and for diagnostic tests to yield results.

Mycobacterium also possesses unique metabolic capabilities. It can utilize various carbon sources, including fatty acids, alcohols and complex carbohydrates, to adapt to multiple host niches and survive in different environments. It can also manipulate phagocytic cells and prevent their destruction, thus allowing the bacteria to survive and replicate within these cells.

The structure of mycobacterium provides it with high resistance to many antibiotics and disinfectants, making them challenging to treat and control. Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the most well-known species within this genus responsible for causing tuberculosis in humans.

Mycobacterium has drawn considerable attention due to its role in causing widespread infectious diseases. Research efforts focus on understanding the mechanisms of mycobacterium pathogenicity and drug resistance and developing improved diagnostics and treatments. Some mycobacterium species are involved in studying environmental processes such as bioremediation and nitrogen fixation. 

Difference Between Mycoplasma and Mycobacterium

  1. Mycoplasma lacks a cell wall, while mycobacterium has a complex cell wall containing mycolic acids.
  2. Mycoplasma has a small genome due to extensive genome reduction, whereas mycobacterium has a relatively larger genome.
  3. Mycoplasma relies on the host for essential nutrients, whereas mycobacterium can use many carbon sources.
  4. Mycoplasma has a faster growth rate than mycobacterium, which grows slowly.
  5. Mycoplasma exhibits variable shapes like filamentous, spherical or ring, while mycobacterium maintains a consistent form.

Comparison Between Mycoplasma and Mycobacterium

Parameter of ComparisonMycoplasmaMycobacterium
Cell wall structureAbsent Complex cell wall containing mycolic acids
Size of genome Small Large 
Nutrient dependency Relies on the host for essential nutrientsIt can use a wide range of carbon sources itself 
Growth rateFast Slow 
Shape Variable including filamentous, spherical or ring-shapedConsistent 
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