Spiroplasma spp. biofilm formation is instrumental for their role in the pathogenesis of plant, insect and animal diseases

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Spiroplasma spp. are important phyto and insect pathogens, and candidate causal agent/s of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) in man and animals. These filterable wall-less bacteria are widely distributed in nature with an unspecified environmental reservoir. In this study we showed by scanning electron microscopy that spiroplasma form biofilm on an assortment of hard surfaces including mica, nickel and stainless steel. Spiroplasma were stuck to the surfaces by fibrillar threads consistent with curli fibers (an amyloid protein found in bacterial biofilms). After a lengthy time in cultures (6. weeks), spiroplasma in biofilm bound to mica disks lost their spiral shapes and formed coccoid forms interconnected by long (> 2 μm) branched membranous nanotubules, therein representing direct conjugate connections between the cells. The affinity of spiroplasma biofilms for mica and nickel, and the membrane communications suggest that soil could be a reservoir for these bacteria. The persistence of clay bound spiroplasma in soil could serve as the mechanism of lateral spread of TSEs by ingestion of soil by ruminants. Spiroplasma binding to stainless steel wire supports bacterial contamination of surgical instruments following surgery on dementia patients as a mechanism of iatrogenic transmission of TSEs, especially with resistance of spiroplasma in biofilms to drying or exposure to 50% glutaraldehyde. The discovery of biofilm formation by spiroplasma addresses questions regarding environmental persistence of these organisms in nature and suggests novel mechanisms of intercellular communication and transmission. © 2012 Elsevier Inc..

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Experimental and Molecular Pathology

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