A glimpse into the past and predictions for the future: the molecular evolution of the tuberculosis agent

Eva C Boritsch, Philip Supply, Nadine Honore, Torsten Seemann, Timothy P Stinear, Roland Brosch

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61 Citations (Scopus)


Recent advances in genomics and molecular biology are providing an excellent opportunity to get a glimpse into the past, to examine the present, and to predict the future evolution of pathogenic mycobacteria, and in particular that of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the agent of human tuberculosis. The recent availability of genome sequences of several Mycobacterium canettii strains, representing evolutionary early-branching tubercle bacilli, has allowed the genomic and molecular features of the putative ancestor of the M. tuberculosis complex (MTBC) to be reconstituted. Analyses have identified extensive lateral gene transfer and recombination events in M. canettii and/or the MTBC, leading to suggestions of a past environmental reservoir where the ancestor(s) of the tubercle bacilli might have adapted to an intracellular lifestyle. The daily increases in M. tuberculosis genome data and the remaining urgent Public Health problem of tuberculosis make it more important than ever to try and understand the origins and the future evolution of the MTBC. Here we critically discuss a series of questions on gene-loss, acquisition, recombination, mutation and conservation that have recently arisen and which are key to better understand the outstanding evolutionary success of one of the most widespread and most deadly bacterial pathogens in the history of humankind.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)835 - 852
Number of pages18
JournalMolecular Microbiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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