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There are more than 70 species of mycobacteria—rod-shaped bacteria with waxy outer coats that can be found throughout the world. Tuberculosis and leprosy (Hansen’s disease) are the best known mycobacterial diseases. People may also be infected by any of a group of mycobacterial species collectively called non-tuberculous mycobacteria. While tuberculosis and leprosy are most common in resource-limited countries, non-tuberculous mycobacterial infections occur worldwide.

NIAID Role in Research

NIAID research on mycobacteria is leading to new or improved ways to diagnose, treat, or prevent tuberculosis and other mycobacterial diseases.

NIAID-supported scientists are conducting research on

  • The biology of mycobacteria species that cause human disease
  • How mycobacterial diseases develop in the body
  • Interactions between the human immune system and mycobacteria
  • Immunology of and host response to infections and disease
  • Epidemiology of mycobacterial diseases

NIAID researchers also

  • Develop animal models that mimic human mycobacterial disease
  • Devise laboratory tests (assays) for such purposes as rapid diagnosis of infection
  • Create molecular, immunological, biochemical, and genetic tools
  • Conduct clinical studies of new therapies and other interventions in adults and children, including those co-infected with other diseases, such as HIV/AIDS

Last Updated March 24, 2015