Spirochete is also spelt as spirochaete, which refers to any of a group of spiral-shaped bacteria. Some of them are serious pathogens for humans, that cause diseases like syphilis, yaws, Lyme disease, and also relapsing fever. Examples of spirochetes are Spirochaeta, Treponema, Borrelia, and Leptospira.
What is Spirochete?
Spirochetes are gram-negative, motile, and spiral bacteria. Their length is from 3 to 500 m long. Spirochetes are very different and they have endocellular flagella also known as axial fibrils, or axial filaments, which is between 2 and more than 100 per organism, depending upon the species.
Each axial fibril of spirochetes attaches at an opposite end and then winds around the cell body that is enclosed by an envelope. Spirochetes are characteristically found in a liquid environment such as in mud and water, blood, and lymph.
A large group of single-celled prokaryotes that lacks membrane-bound organelles found in just about any environment across the world that are soil, water, air, hot streams, etc. They may exist as parasites, or as free-living organisms, or even as symbionts with some of the species being very beneficial to man.
Bacterial cells that are characterized by a unique diderm (double-membrane) which gives them their gram-negative characteristic. They are usually thin with a spiral-shaped appearance and also possess flagella which are commonly known as axial filaments.
These helically shaped bacteria have the capability of locomotion. They display significant variation in their physiology and also in their distribution.
In nature, they might exist as facultative anaerobes, obligate anaerobes, or obligate aerobes. This order is further divided into three major phylogenetic families that include Spirochaetaceae, Brachyspiraceae, and Leptospiraceae.
Ecology and Distribution
As a group of bacteria, the spirochetes are distributed in nature. They can be found in different environments across the whole world. Many of the species on this planet have shown to exist as free-living organisms and also can be found in different habitats in water such as surface water or freshwater, or in lakes, salt marsh sediments, or even in mud, sediments, and also deep-sea vents among others.
Apart from the species found in these habitats, the other species form an association with various hosts that are termites, protozoa, mammals, etc., and are hence found living within these hosts such as in the intestine. While some of the species are also very beneficial, whereas some are pathogenic and they tend to cause diseases such as Lyme disease, dysentery, etc.
Because of the diversity between species and also where they are found in nature, the spirochetes are classified based on their distribution. Obligatory Aerobic Spirochetes that need oxygen for metabolism might be found in water and sometimes also in the soil as free-living organisms with some species living as pathogens in their hosts.
Members of the genus Leptospira have been classified as Obligatory Aerobic Spirochetes. The Anaerobic and the facultative anaerobic spirochetes exist as free-living forms and also include members of the genus Spirochaeta. They are usually found in various environments where they can survive on a variety of organic matter like disaccharides, pentoses, and hexoses, etc.
Some of the other habitats in which spirochetes can be found are in High salinity ponds or hot/boiling water springs.