Comparative genomics shows that Mycobacterium ulcerans migration and expansion preceded the rise of Buruli ulcer in southeastern Australia

Andrew H. Buultjens, Koen Vandelannoote, Conor J. Meehan, Miriam Eddyani, Bouke C. de Jong, Janet A. M. Fyfe, Maria Globan, Nicholas J. Tobias, Jessica L. Porter, Takehiro Tomita, Ee Laine Tay, Torsten Seemann, Benjamin P. Howden, Paul D. R. Johnson, Timothy P. Stinear

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28 Citations (Scopus)


Since 2000, cases of the neglected tropical disease Buruli ulcer, caused by infection with Mycobacterium ulcerans, have increased 100-fold around Melbourne (population 4.4 million), the capital of Victoria, in temperate southeastern Australia. The reasons for this increase are unclear. Here, we used whole-genome sequence comparisons of 178 M. ulcerans isolates obtained primarily from human clinical specimens, spanning 70 years, to model the population dynamics of this pathogen from this region. Using phylogeographic and advanced Bayesian phylogenetic approaches, we found that there has been a migration of the pathogen from the east end of the state, beginning in the 1980s, 300 km west to the major human population center around Melbourne. This move was then followed by a significant increase in M. ulcerans population size. These analyses inform our thinking around Buruli ulcer transmission and control, indicating that M. ulcerans is introduced to a new environment and then expands, rather than it being from the awakening of a quiescent pathogen reservoir.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02612-17
Number of pages15
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Australia
  • Buruli ulcer
  • Genomics
  • Mycobacterium ulcerans
  • Phylogenetics
  • Population genetics
  • Public health

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