Mycoplasma agassizii, an opportunistic pathogen of tortoises, shows very little genetic variation across the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts


Mycoplasma agassizii is a common cause of upper respiratory tract disease in Mojave desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii). So far, only two strains of this bacterium have been sequenced, and very little is known about its patterns of genetic diversity. Understanding genetic variability of this pathogen is essential to implement conservation programs for their threatened, long-lived hosts. We used next generation sequencing to explore the genomic diversity of 86 cultured samples of M. agassizii collected from mostly healthy Mojave and Sonoran desert tortoises in 2011 and 2012. All samples with enough sequencing coverage exhibited a higher similarity to M. agassizii strain PS6(T) (collected in Las Vegas Valley, Nevada) than to strain 723 (collected in Sanibel Island, Florida). All eight genomes with a sequencing coverage over 2x were subjected to multiple analyses to detect single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Strikingly, even though we detected 1373 SNPs between strains PS6(T) and 723, we did not detect any SNP between PS6(T) and our eight samples. Our whole genome analyses reveal that M. agassizii strain PS6(T) may be present across a wide geographic extent in healthy Mojave and Sonoran desert tortoises.