An unclassified microorganism: Novel pathogen candidate lurking in human airways

Kazumasa Fukuda, Kazuhiro Yatera, Midori Ogawa, Toshinori Kawanami, Kei Yamasaki, Shingo Noguchi, Robert S. Murphy, Hiroshi Mukae, Hatsumi Taniguchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


During the assessments of the correlation of the diseases and the microbiota of various clinical specimens, unique 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene sequences (less than 80% similarity to known bacterial type strains) were predominantly detected in a bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) specimen from a patient with chronic lower respiratory tract infection. The origin of this unique sequence is suspected to be the causative agent of the infection. We temporarily named the owner organism of this sequence "IOLA" (Infectious Organism Lurking in Airways). In order to evaluate the significance of IOLA in human lung disorders, we performed several experiments. IOLA-16S rRNA genes were detected in 6 of 386 clone libraries constructed from clinical specimens of patients with respiratory diseases (in our study series). The gene sequences (1,427 bp) are identical, and no significantly similar sequence was found in public databases (using NCBI blastn) except for the 8 shorter sequences detected from patients with respiratory diseases in other studies from 2 other countries. Phylogenetic analyses revealed that the 16S rRNA gene of IOLA is more closely related to eukaryotic mitochondria than bacteria. However, the size and shape of IOLA seen by fluorescent in-situ hybridization are similar to small bacteria (approximately 1 mm with a spherical shape). Furthermore, features of both bacteria and mitochondria were observed in the genomic fragment (about 19 kb) of IOLA, and the GC ratio of the sequence was extremely low (20.5%). Two main conclusions were reached: (1) IOLA is a novel bacteria-like microorganism that, interestingly, possesses features of eukaryotic mitochondria. (2) IOLA is a novel pathogen candidate, and it may be the causative agent of human lung or airway disease. IOLA exists in BALF specimens from patients with remarkable symptoms; this information is an important piece for helping solve the elusive etiology of chronic respiratory disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere103646
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 31 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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