Mycobacterium tuberculosis infects one third of the human world population and kills someone every 15 seconds. For more than a century, scientists and clinicians have been distinguishing between the human- and animal-adapted members of the M. tuberculosis complex (MTBC). However, all human-adapted strains of MTBC have traditionally been considered to be essentially identical. We surveyed sequence diversity within a global collection of strains belonging to MTBC using seven megabase pairs of DNA sequence data. We show that the members of MTBC affecting humans are more genetically diverse than generally assumed, and that this diversity can be linked to human demographic and migratory events. We further demonstrate that these organisms are under extremely reduced purifying selection and that, as a result of increased genetic drift, much of this genetic diversity is likely to have functional consequences. Our findings suggest that the current increases in human population, urbanization, and global travel, combined with the population genetic characteristics of M. tuberculosis described here, could contribute to the emergence and spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis remains a worldwide public health emergency. The emergence of drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis in many parts of the world is threatening to make this important human disease incurable. Even though many resources are being invested into the development of new tuberculosis control tools, we still do not know the extent of genetic diversity in tuberculosis bacteria, nor do we understand the evolutionary forces that shape this diversity. To address these questions, we studied a large collection of human tuberculosis strains using DNA sequencing. We found that strains originating in different parts of the world are more genetically diverse than previously recognized. Our results also suggest that much of this diversity has functional consequences and could affect the efficacy of new tuberculosis diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines. Furthermore, we found that the global diversity in tuberculosis strains can be linked to the ancient human migrations out of Africa, as well as to more recent movements that followed the increases of human populations in Europe, India, and China during the past few hundred years. Taken together, our findings suggest that the evolutionary characteristics of tuberculosis bacteria could synergize with the effects of increasing globalization and human travel to enhance the global spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis.
DNA sequence analysis of a global collection ofM. tuberculosis strains reveals high functional diversity, severely reduced selective constraint, and global spread through both ancient and recent human migrations.