The Mycobacterium leprae genome: systematic sequence analysis identifies key catabolic enzymes, ATP-dependent transport systems and a novel polA locus associated with genomic variability.
In the framework of the mycobacterial genome sequencing project, a continuous 37,049 bp sequence from the Mycobacterium leprae chromosome has been determined. Computer analysis revealed 10 complete open reading frames, and nine of their products show similarity to known proteins. Seven of these were identified as the enzyme isocitrate lyase, two P-type ATPase cation transporters, two AMP-binding proteins, the ribosomal protein S1, and DNA polymerase I. Interestingly, the polA gene, encoding DNA polymerase, is flanked by two inverted copies of a new class of the M. leprae specific repetitive sequence, RLEP, and this structure resembles a transposable element. A second copy of this element was found at another locus in the genome, but the two copies were not present in equal amounts and could not be found in all isolates of M. leprae. This is the first evidence for genomic variability in the leprosy bacillus and might ultimately be useful for developing a molecular test capable of distinguishing between strains of M. leprae.