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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Spiroplasma and Bees
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Spiroplasma and honey bee: spiroplasma species pathogenic in honey bees:

Spiroplasmas were discovered by a member of the USDA Molecular Plant Pathology Laboratory, Dr. Robert E. Davis, who also coined the term "spiroplasma" for these unusual disease-causing microbes. While working alone at the microscope in his laboratory at Beltsville, Dr. Davis observed that extracts from corn plants affected by corn stunt disease contained tiny, helically shaped microbes that had a motility of their own. All diseased corn plants contained this unusual microbe, a type that had never been seen before, but none could be seen in extracts from healthy plants Dr. Davis concluded that this helical, motile microbe must be the cause of the corn stunt disease. Since that time, spiroplasmas have proven to be the causes of diseases in citrus, periwinkle, diverse insects, Chinese mitten crab, and fresh water and marine shrimp.

Spiroplasma infection in honey bees was first reported in 1976. Subsequently, honey bee-infecting and other spiroplasma species were found on the surfaces of flowers. Several species of Spiroplasma are now known to infect honey bee. The references listed below will provide the reader with some background concerning research on these spiroplasmas.



Davis, R.E., Worley, J.F., Whitcomb, R.F., Ishijima, R., and Steere, R.L. 1972. Helical filaments produced by a mycoplasmalike organism associated with corn stunt disease.  SCIENCE 176:521-523. link



Davis, R.E., and Worley, J.F. 1973. Spiroplasma: Motile, helical microorganism associated with corn stunt disease.  Phytopathology 63:403-408.

Davis R.E., Worley J.F., Clark T.B., and Moseley M. 1976. New spiroplasma in diseased honeybee (Apis melliferum L.) : Isolation, pure culture, and partial characterization in vitro. Proc. Am. Phytopathol. Soc. 3:304.

Davis R.E. 1978. Spiroplasma associated with flowers of the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera L.). Can J Microbiol. 24(8):954-959.

Davis R.E. 1979. Spiroplasmas: Newly recognized arthropod-borne pathogens. Chapter 13. In: Leafhopper Vectors and Plant Disease Agents. (Maramorosch, K. and Harris, K. F. eds.) Academic Press, New York. 654 pages.

Davis R.E., Lee I.M., Basciano L.K.. 1979. Spiroplasmas: serological grouping of strains associated with plants and insects. Can J Microbiol. 25(8):861-866.

Lee IM, Davis RE. 1980. DNA homology among diverse spiroplasma strains representing several serological groups. Can J Microbiol. 26(11):1356-1363.

Muniyappa V., and Davis R.E. 1980. Occurrence of spiroplasmas of two serogroups on flowers of the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera L.) in Maryland. Current Sci. 49:58-60.

Davis R.E. 1981. The enigma of the flower spiroplasmas. Pages 259-279. In: Mycoplasma Diseases of Trees and Shrubs, Academic Press, ISBN 0-12-470220-1.

Davis R.E. 1981. Antibiotic sensitivities in vitro of diverse spiroplasma strains associated with plants and insects. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 41:329-333.

Davis R.E., Lee, I.M., and Worley, J.F. 1981. Spiroplasma floricola, a new species isolated from surfaces of flowers of the tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera L. Int. J. Syst. Bacteriol. 31:456-464.

Raju B.C., Nyland G., Meikle T., Purcell A.H. 1981. Helical, motile mycoplasmas associated with flowers and honey bees in California. Can J Microbiol. 27(2):249-253.

Bove J.M., Saillard C., Junca P., DeGorce-Dumas J.R., Ricard B., Nhami A., Whitcomb R.F., Williamson D., Tully J.G. 1982. Guanine-plus-cytosine content, hybridization percentages, and EcoRI restriction enzyme profiles of spiroplasmal DNA. Rev Infect Dis. 4 Suppl:S129-136. Chang C.J., and Chen T.A. 1982. Spiroplasmas: cultivation in chemically defined medium. Science. 215:1121-1122.

Davis R.E., and I.-M. Lee. 1982. Comparative properties of spiroplasmas and emerging taxonomic concepts: a proposal. Rev. Infect. Dis. 4 Suppl:S122-S128.

Mouches C., Menara A., Tully J.G., Bove J.M. 1982. Polyacrylamide gel analysis of spiroplasmas proteins and its contribution to the taxonomy of spiroplasmas. Rev Infect Dis. 4 Suppl:S141-147.

Chang C.J., and Chen T.A. 1983. Nutritional requirements of two flower spiroplasmas and honeybee spiroplasma. J Bacteriol. 153(1):452-457.

Lee I.-M., and R.E. Davis R.E. 1983. Chemically defined medium for cultivation of several epiphytic and phytopathogenic spiroplasmas. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 46:1247-1251.

Mouches C., Bove J.M., Tully J.G., Rose D.L., McCoy R.E., Carle-Junca P., Garnier M., and Saillard C. 1983. Spiroplasma apis, a new species from the honey-bee Apis mellifera. Ann. Microbiol. (Paris) 134A:383-397.

Whitmore S.C., Wissler J.F., and Davis R.E. 1983. In vitro susceptibility of spiroplasmas to heavy-metal salts. Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 23:22-25.

Clark T.B. 1984. Diversity of spiroplasma host-parasite relationships. Isr J Med Sci. 20:995-997.

Clark T.B., and Whitcomb R.F. 1984. Pathogenicity of mollicutes for insects: possible use in biological control. Ann Microbiol (Paris). 135A(1):141-150.

Mouches C., Bove J.M., and Albisetti J. 1984. Pathogenicity of Spiroplasma apis and other spiroplasmas for honey-bees in southwestern France. Ann Microbiol (Paris). 135A(1):151-155.

Williamson D.L. 1984. Studies on the pathogenicity of spiroplasmas for Drosophila pseudoobscura. Ann Microbiol (Paris). 135A(1):157-162.

Clark T.B., Whitcomb R.F., Tully J.G., Mouches C., Saillard C., Bove J.M., Wroblewski H., Carle P., Rose D.L., Henegar R.B., and Williamson D.L. 1985. Spiroplasma melliferum, a new species from the honeybee (Apis mellifera). Int. J. Syst. Bacteriol. 35:296-308.

McCammon S.L., and Davis R.E. 1985. Transfection of Spiroplasma citri with DNA of a new rod-shaped spiroplasmavirus. In: Plant pathogenic bacteria; (Eds. E.L. Civerolo, A. Collmer, R.E. Davis, and A.G. Gillaspie. Martinus Nijhoff Publ, Boston). Proc. 6th Conf. Plant Pathogenic Bacteria, Maryland, June 2-7, 1985:458-464.

McCammon S.L., and Davis R.E. 1988. Molecular biology of Spiroplasma: gene transfer and pathogen detection. J. Indust. Microbiol. Suppl. 3:141-148.

Jordan R.L., Konai M., Lee I.-M., and Davis R.E. 1989. Species-specific and cross-reactive monoclonal antibodies to the plant-pathogenic spiroplasmas Spiroplasma citri and S. kunkelii. Phytopathology 79:880-887.

Lee I.-M., and Davis R.E. 1989. Serum-free media for cultivation of spiroplasmas. Can. J. Microbiol. 35:1092-1099.

McCammon S.L., Dally E.L., and Davis R.E. 1990. Electroporation and DNA methylation effects on the transfection of spiroplasma. Gustav Fischere Verlag Stuttgart, New York. Zbl. Suppl. 20:60-64.

Bove J.M. 1997. Spiroplasmas: infectious agents of plants, arthropods and vertebrates. Wien Klin Wochenschr. 109(14-15):604-612.

Last Modified: 8/13/2016
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