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Retracing the evolutionary history and emergence of tuberculosis

​Scientists from the Pasteur Institutes in Paris and Lille, the CNRS, INRSERM and the Université Lille 2, in collaboration with the CEA-Genoscope and the Sanger Institute, have recently determined the origin of the emergence of the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the primary causative agent of tuberculosis. The researchers also provide clues to the evolutionary success of this pathogen, including several genetic mechanisms that could have contributed to its global dispersal, which currently infects up to 2 billion people. This work, published January 6 on the website Nature Genetics, offers some valuable perspectives for identifying new targets in the fight against tuberculosis.

Published on 7 January 2013

In the study, the researchers were able to retrace the evolutionary history of M. tuberculosis. Their work confirms previous hypotheses suggesting that M. tuberculosis strains (which are genetically highly conserved) are derived from an evolutionary branch shared with Mycobacterium canettii strains. This latter group, which can also cause tuberculosis, is genetically very diverse and certain characteristics of their genomes indicate that they are of a much older origin.

The researchers also suggest possible factors that may have contributed to the evolutionary success of M. tuberculosis (which has made tuberculosis a global pandemic), whereas strains of M. canettii have remained mostly confined to eastern Africa.

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