Leprosy, a chronic human disease with potentially debilitating neurological consequences, results from infection with Mycobacterium leprae. This unculturable pathogen has undergone extensive reductive evolution, with half of its genome now occupied by pseudogenes. Using comparative genomics, we demonstrated that all extant cases of leprosy are attributable to a single clone whose dissemination worldwide can be retraced from analysis of very rare single-nucleotide polymorphisms. The disease seems to have originated in Eastern Africa or the Near East and spread with successive human migrations. Europeans or North Africans introduced leprosy into West Africa and the Americas within the past 500 years.