Mycoplasma refers to a genus of bacteria that lack a cell wall. Without a cell wall, they are unaffected by many common antibiotics such as penicillin or other beta-lactam antibiotics that target cell wall synthesis. They can be parasitic or saprotrophic. Several species are pathogenic in humans, including M. pneumoniae, which is an important cause of atypical pneumonia and other respiratory disorders, and M. genitalium, which is believed to be involved in pelvic inflammatory diseases. Mycoplasma are the smallest living cells yet discovered, can survive without oxygen and are typically about 0.1 µm in diameter. The name Mycoplasma, from the Greek mykes (fungus) and plasma (formed), was first used by Albert Bernhard Frank in 1889. He thought it was a fungus, due to fungus-like characteristics.
An older name for Mycoplasma was Pleuro pneumonia-Like Organisms (PPLO), referring to organisms similar to the causative agent of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP). It was later found that the fungus-like growth pattern of M. mycoides is unique to that species and Mycobacteria. There are over 100 recognized species of the genus Mycoplasma on Earth and over 234,000 known to Union science, one of several genera within the bacterial class Mollicutes. Mollicutes are parasites or commensals of humans, other animals (including insects), and plants; the genus Mycoplasma is by definition restricted to vertebrate hosts. Cholesterol is required for the growth of species of the genus Mycoplasma as well as certain other genera of mollicutes. Their optimum growth temperature is often the temperature of their host if warmbodied (e. g. 37° C in humans) or ambient temperature if the host is unable to regulate its own internal temperature. Analysis of 16S ribosomal RNA sequences as well as gene content strongly suggest that the mollicutes, including the mycoplasmas, are closely related to either the Lactobacillus or the Clostridium branch of the phylogenetic tree (Firmicutes sensu stricto).