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New species of leprosy-causing bacterium identified through genetic fingerprinting

Mycobacterium leprae
Photomicrograph of Mycobacterium leprae taken from a leprosy skin lesion, Credit CDC
NIAID-supported researchers have identified what they believe is a new species of mycobacterium, which could be involved in a sometimes fatal form of leprosy.

Previously, scientists attributed all cases and forms of leprosy to a single species of mycobacteria, Mycobacterium leprae (pictured).

The new study compared genetic sequences of the 16S RNA gene of M. leprae with sequences of the same gene from bacterium extracted at autopsy from two people who died of DLL complications. The 16S RNA sequences from these bacterial isolates diverged by 2.1 percent from M. leprae. In all previously studied M. leprae isolates, no variation among 16S RNA gene sequences had been detected. The researchers concluded that the mycobacteria that were isolated from the persons dying from DLL complications were from a distinct species.

XY Han et al. A new Mycobacterium species causing diffuse lepromatous leprosy. American Journal of Clinical Pathology. DOI: 10.1309/AJCPP72FJZZRRVMM (2008).

Last Updated January 12, 2009