Mycobacterium leprae: genes, pseudogenes and genetic diversity
Leprosy, which has afflicted human populations for millenia, results from infection with Mycobacterium leprae, an unculturable pathogen with an exceptionally long generation time. Considerable insight into the biology and drug resistance of the leprosy bacillus has been obtained from genomics. M. leprae has undergone reductive evolution and pseudogenes now occupy half of its genome. Comparative genomics of four different strains revealed remarkable conservation of the genome (99.995% identity) yet uncovered 215 polymorphic sites, mainly single nucleotide polymorphisms, and a handful of new pseudogenes. Mapping these polymorphisms in a large panel of strains defined 16 single nucleotide polymorphism-subtypes that showed strong geographical associations and helped retrace the evolution of M. leprae.