The first efforts toward the study of those microbial forms that would eventually be called mollicutes really began with the pioneering efforts of a group of French bacteriologists. In 1898, E. Nocard and E.R. Roux, and their collaborators, A. Borrel, A. Salimbeni, and E. Dujardin-Baumetz, first cultured the microbe of contagious pleuropneumonia of cattle on artificial broth. Two years later, E. Dujardin-Baumetz was able to adapt the organism to a solid medium. He observed the small colonies with the now familiar dark center and light peripheral area, and documented the filterability of the organism. Twenty-five years went by (1923) before J. Bridre and A. Donatien, again in France, cultivated the organism associated with agalactia of sheep and goats and established the etiologic role of the organism in the disease.
These discoveries stimulated considerable interest in filterable bacteria and by the mid to late 1930s more researchers began to study additional members of this group of microbes that had come to be known as “pleuropneumonia-like organisms,” or “PPLO”. In England, Ledingham worked on their morphology; Klieneberger-Nobel was isolating the organisms from rodents; and Laidlaw and Elford were cultivating what would later turn out to be acholeplasmas from sewage. In Germany, Seiffert was also growing so-called saprophytic PPLO from soil and compost. In the US, Nelson was isolating the so-called pleuropneumonia-like organisms from chickens and rodents, Sabin was also studying similar organisms with neurotoxic properties, and, in 1937, Dienes and Edsall cultivated the first pleuropneumonia-like organism from the urogenital tract of a female patient.
Although the period of 1940-60 saw further progress in understanding the biology of these organisms, the 1962 discovery of the causative agent of primary atypical pneumonia of humans provided not only an important stimulus to study further the organisms in man and their pathogenicity, but it provoked a major change in the classification and nomenclature of the organisms. Now these filterable, wall-less prokaryotes were given the collective term “mycoplasmas,” since it was proposed by an international taxonomy subcommittee that all organisms in this collection be assigned to the genus Mycoplasma. However, this terminology became outdated relatively soon, because many new and different mycoplasmas were being isolated and characterized, and new taxonomic names and classification levels were being used to separate these organisms from those in the genus Mycoplasma (such as members of the genus Acholeplasma, genus Ureaplasma, etc.). Eventually, a revised classification scheme was devised whereby all filterable, wall-less prokaryotes were covered under a broad system called the class Mollicutes.
One might well consider the next thirty-years as the “golden age” of mycoplasmology. Major advances occurred on many fronts, including the discovery of mollicutes in plant and insect hosts, the first helical mollicutes (spiroplasmas), new strictly anaerobic mollicutes (anaeroplasmas), of mycoplasma and acholeplasma viruses, the occurrence of many newly isolated mollicutes from man and animals and their pathogenicity, the expanding field of molecular biology and genetics of mollicutes, and new concepts of how mollicutes interact with host immune responses. Some of the most exciting developments are now taking place in understanding how mollicutes might avoid host immune defenses and interact with other microbial agents to induce disease. Again, these major advancements have produced changes in our understanding of the evolution and classification of Mollicutes, so that we now recognize such new organisms as the mesoplasmas, entomoplasmas, asteroleplasmas, etc.
Events leading to the eventual formation of an international society of workers in the field of mycoplasmology really began in early 1972. The Ciba Foundation in London sponsored a symposium on “Pathogenic Mycoplasmas”, whereby a small group of researchers interested in human, animal, plant, and insect mollicute diseases gathered to discuss problems of mutual interest. This symposium stimulated considerable international interaction and cooperation among workers in the field, and eventually led to discussions and plans for a larger international symposium on “Mycoplasmas of Man, Animals, Plants and Insects” in Bordeaux, France in 1974. This meeting, sponsored by the University of Bordeaux II and the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) in France, was attended by over 300 participants from 31 countries. The proceedings of the conference were published as a document in the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) series (volume 33).
During the Bordeaux symposium, discussions were held with some of the participants regarding whether an international organization might be formed to stimulate further cooperation and promote future meetings. As a result of these discussions, a group of individuals were invited to meet (including D.G. ff Edward, E.A. Freundt, G.S. Cottew, J.M. Bove, W. Bredt, M.F. Barile, S. Razin, R.F. Whitcomb, and J.G. Tully) to plan a series of ad hoc committees for the formation of a new international organization. The committees were charged with the preparation of a constitution for the organization, to nominate candidates for office, to formulate membership publicity and financial appeals, and to plan for the first scientific congress of the organization. As a consequence of these joint efforts, the first election of officers for the newly formed International Organization for Mycoplasmology occurred in the Spring of 1976: Chair, Joseph G. Tully (USA); Chair-Elect, Shmuel Razin (Israel); Secretary-General, D. Taylor-Robinson (UK), and Treasurer, Michael F. Barile (USA). At Large Members appointed to the Board included: G. Biberfeld (Sweden), J.M. Bove (France), E.A. Freundt (Denmark), L. Stipkovits (Hungary), and R.F. Whitcomb (USA). The numerous individuals and members of the IOM who have later served the Organization in elective office or in appointed positions and have contributed greatly to the growth and recognition of the Organization are listed in the IOM Handbook.