Spirochete Bacteria

Dinah McAlister, Erika Steele
  • Author
    Dinah McAlister

    Dinah Mcalister teaches 7-12 Science. Courses taught include Chemistry, Biology, System's Go!, Physical Science, Life Science and Earth Science. She has 25 years of teaching experience. Dinah received her Master's degree in Secondary Education with an emphasis in Curriculum and InstructionFrom Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.

  • Instructor
    Erika Steele

    Erika has taught college Biology, Microbiology, and Environmental Science. She has a PhD in Science Education.

Find out what a spirochete is and spirochete bacteria examples. Learn the function of spirochetes’ axial filaments and endoflagella. Read about spirochetemia. Updated: 02/21/2022

Table of Contents

Show

What is a Spirochete?

Spirochetes are corkscrew-shaped bacteria characterized by an endoflagella which is part of the axial filament. Spirochetes are members of the Domain Bacteria. These bacteria are prokaryotes which means that their nucleic acid or genome is not contained in a membrane-bound nucleus. Spirochetes are heterotrophic which means they do not produce their own food, and they must get their nutrition from other sources. Specifically, spirochetes are chemoheterotrophic and get their energy from chemical and organic compounds.


Example of spirochete bacteria under the microscope


Function of Axial Filaments

Spirochetes have a specialized flagella called an endoflagella. These unique flagella form an axial filament. Axial filaments help the spirochete move through rotation of the endoflagella which causes the axial filament to rotate around the body cell and gives the spirochete a twisting motion. The axial filaments wrap around the cell body and are located between the cell wall and enclosed by the outer membrane.

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Aminoglycosides: List of Examples, Toxicity & Side Effects

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 Prokaryotes vs. Eukaryotes
  • 1:02 Spirochetes and Endoflagella
  • 1:52 Where are Spirochetes Found?
  • 2:36 Mutualism
  • 3:04 Parasitism
  • 5:23 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed Speed

Endoflagella and Spirochetes

Endoflagella are bundles of flagella called axial filaments that wrap around the cell body of spirochetes. The axial filaments cause the bundles of flagella to rotate to help the spirochete move in a twisting motion. The term endoflagella has the prefix 'endo' which means inside, and flagella in bacteria are used for movement of the cell, so endoflagella are flagella enclosed inside a membrane that help the spirochete move. Flagella have many functions, the most common being movement. They are also sensory and can depict changes in pH and temperature. Flagella (singular flagellum), meaning whip, are long whip-like structures that resemble long hair that propel the cell through a liquid medium. Although several species of prokaryotes have flagella, flagella can also be found in other types of cells such as human sperm cells. The endoflagella and axial filament are specific to spirochetes and the presence of these structures determines spirochete classification.

Spirillum Vs. Spirochete

Spirochetes are prokaryote bacteria characterized by a species-specific endoflagella and axial filament that gives the spirochete its unique spiral/twisting locomotion (movement) style. Spirochetes are a spiral-shaped bacteria with axial filaments "wrapped" around the cell body that propel the spirochete in a twisting motion. Spirillum bacteria in comparison to spirochete bacteria are spiral-shaped bacteria with flagella, similar to the corkscrew-shaped spirochete, but do not contain an endoflagella or an axial filament for locomotion. Spirillum move by flagella that move in a twisting motion to propel the spirillum forward. Spirochetes use an axial filament that rotates the cell body to propel the bacteria in a forward motion.

Prokaryotes (Bacteria that do not contain membrane organelles, including a nucleus.) are found in a variety of shapes including spiral, coccus, bacillus and vibrio. Spirillum bacteria are found in a spiral shape, similar to spirochetes. Coccus bacteria are sphere or round shaped. Bacillus bacteria are rod shaped. Vibrio bacteria are comma shaped.


Bacteria shapes


Spirochetes Examples

Spirochete examples can be beneficial (mutualistic) or parasitic. Some examples of spirochetes that are parasitic belong to the families of Treponema, Leptospira and Borrelia. Parasitic spirochetes cause diseases such as syphilis, yaws and Lyme disease. Some examples of mutualistic spirochetes are found in termites, mollusks and ruminants, such as cows. Beneficial spirochetes are useful for the host they infect such as aiding in digestion, making nutrients or helping to feed their hosts. Spirochetes are 5-15 microns long and about 0.2 microns wide in the family Treponema and 5-15 microns long and about 0.1 microns wide in the family Leptospira.

Mutualism and Spirochetes Examples

Mutualism is a type of symbiosis in which both organisms benefit from the relationship. Mixotricha paradoxa spirochetes have a mutualistic relationship with Australian termites in which the termites benefit from the spirochetes by helping the termites digest the cellulose found in wood. The spirochete converts cellulose into an energy source the termites can use. Spirochetes also take nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it into nutrients. These spirochetes are not the same shape as other spirochetes. Scientists have found that the spirochetes involved in this mutualistic relationship are rod shaped and do not use endoflagella for locomotion.

In addition to the mutualistic relationship between termites and spirochetes, other beneficial spirochetes are found in ruminants such as cows. These spirochetes aid ruminant digestion. Other harmless spirochetes are found in mussels and oysters. These spirochetes act as cilia, hairlike projections on the outside of bacteria, to help move food into the mussels and oysters.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a spirochete parasitic or beneficial?

Spirochetes are both parasitic and beneficial. Spirochetes are parasitic when they cause disease in humans, but are beneficial in Australian termites because they help the termites digest cellulose in wood.

What is the name of the condition when spirochetes are found in the blood?

Spirochetemia is the presence of spirochetes in the blood. An example of spirochetemia is caused by the spirochete Leptospira interrogans that gives rise to leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is usually a mild disease characterized by fever, myalgia (muscle pain) and headache, but if left to progress, can lead to liver or kidney failure.

Where do spirochetes live?

Spirochetes live in a variety of organisms. If they are found in humans, they cause diseases and form a parasitic relationship. Spirochetes can also live in ticks, lice, mussels, termites and oysters. These are mutualistic relationships because both organisms benefit.

What diseases can spirochetes cause?

Spirochetes cause diseases such as syphilis, Lyme disease, leptospirosis and yaws. Syphilis is sexually transmitted in humans. Lyme disease is caused by a bite from a tick. Leptospirosis is transmitted by the brown rat. Yaws is characterized by lumps and ulcers, most commonly in children.

Where are spirochetes found?

Spirochetes are found in a variety of organisms. They are found in humans when they cause diseases such as syphilis, yaws and Lyme disease. Spirochetes are also found in Australian termites as a mutualistic relationship.

What is the meaning of spirochete?

Spirochetes are corkscrew-shaped bacteria characterized by an endoflagella which is part of the axial filament. Spirochetes are members of the Domain Bacteria. These bacteria are prokaryotes which means that their nucleic acid or genome is not contained in a membrane bound nucleus. Spirochetes are heterotrophic which means they do not produce their own food, they must get their nutrition from other sources. Specifically, spirochetes are chemoheterotrophic and get their energy from chemical and organic compounds.

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it now
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account