Researchers discover ancient origins of tuberculosis-causing bacteria

August 18, 2005

The Public Library of Science announces the launch of a new journal, PLoS Pathogens

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is pleased to offer a preview of PLoS Pathogens (, a new open-access, peer-reviewed journal that will premiere on September 30, 2005. The journal is led by Editor-in-Chief John A.T. Young, a professor in the Infectious Disease Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

Bacteria, fungi, parasites, prions, and viruses cause a plethora of diseases with significant medical, agricultural, and economic consequences. PLoS Pathogens will publish rigorously peer-reviewed papers that reflect the full breadth of pathogens research. "Understanding pathogens and how they interact with their hosts is one of the most serious scientific challenges we face," Young says.

All works published in PLoS Pathogens are open access--everything published is immediately available without cost to anyone to read, download, redistribute, include in databases, and otherwise use, subject only to the condition that the original authorship is properly attributed.

In this article preview, available online August 19, researchers describe the origin and evolution of the pathogens that cause tuberculosis.

Researchers discover ancient origins of tuberculosis-causing bacteria

Researchers have long considered tuberculosis, a bacterial respiratory disease that kills 3 million people each year, a relatively recent human affliction. But a new study in PLoS Pathogens suggests that the disease and the pathogens responsible are much older than previously thought.

"Our results change the current paradigm of the recent origin of tuberculosis," says Veronique Vincent, senior author of the study and researcher at Institut Pasteur, Paris, France. These results may have important future implications for improving diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Most tuberculosis cases are caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis and its close relatives. However, some tuberculosis patients from East Africa are infected with unusual bacterial strains that form colonies that appear physically different from M. tuberculosis. Using genetic data from the different strains, Vincent and her colleagues discovered that the ancestors of these bacterial strains were also the progenitors of M. tuberculosis.

These results suggest that M. tuberculosis and related strains recently emerged from a much more ancient bacterial species than previously thought, possibly as old as 3 million years, Vincent says. "Tuberculosis could thus be much older than the plague, typhoid fever, or malaria, and might have affected early hominids," and its expansion to the rest of the world may have coincided with the waves of human migration out of Africa.
Citation: Gutierrez MC, Brisse S, Brosch R, Fabre M, Omaýs B, et al. (2005) Ancient origin and gene mosaicism of the progenitor of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. PLoS Pathog 1(1): e5.

CONTACT: M. Cristina Gutierrez
Laboratoire de Reference des Mycobacteries
Institut Pasteur
Paris, France


All works published in PLoS Pathogens are open access. Everything is immediately available without cost to anyone, anywhere--to read, download, redistribute, include in databases, and otherwise use--subject only to the condition that the original authorship is properly attributed. Copyright is retained by the authors. The Public Library of Science uses the Creative Commons Attribution License.


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