Nodular thelitis is a chronic enzootic infection affecting dairy cows and goats. The causative agent was recently shown to be related to the leprosy-causing bacilli Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis. In this study, the genome of this pathogen was sequenced and analyzed. Phylogenomic analyses confirmed that the pathogen present in nodular thelitis and tuberculoid scrotitis is a distinct species related to the leprosy bacilli and Mycobacterium haemophilum. Because the pathogen was originally isolated from a bovine udder, it was named "Mycobacterium uberis." The genome of "M. uberis" is only 3.12 Mb in length, which represents the smallest mycobacterial genome identified so far but which is close to that of leprosy bacilli in size. The genome contains 1,759 protein-coding genes and 1,081 pseudogenes, indicative of extensive reductive evolution and likely the reason that M. uberis cannot be grown axenically. The pseudogenization and genome reduction in M. uberis seem to have been to some extent independent from the results determined for the genomes of the leprosy bacilli.
IMPORTANCE M. uberis is an emerging skin pathogen in dairy animals. Its genome underwent massive reduction and gene decay, leading to a minimal set of genes required for an obligatory intracellular lifestyle, which highly resembles the evolution of the leprosy agents M. leprae and M. lepromatosis. The genomic similarity between M. uberis and the leprosy bacilli can help in identifying key virulence factors of these closely related species or in identifying genes responsible for the distinct differences between thelitis or scrotitis and leprosy with respect to clinical manifestations. Specific DNA markers can now be developed for quick detection of this pathogen.