Mycolactone is an immunosuppressive cytotoxin responsible for the clinical manifestation of Buruli ulcer in humans. It was believed to be confined to its etiologic agent, Mycobacterium ulcerans. However, the identification of other mycolactone-producing mycobacteria (MPMs) in other species, including Mycobacterium marinum, indicated a more complex taxonomic relationship. This highlighted the need for research on the biology, evolution, and distribution of such emerging and potentially infectious strains. The reliable genetic fingerprinting analyses presented here aim at both the unraveling of phylogenetic relatedness and of dispersal between environmental and pathogenic mycolactone producers and the identification of genetic prerequisites that enable lateral gene transfer of such plasmids. This will allow for the identification of environmental reservoirs of virulence plasmids that encode enzymes required for the synthesis of mycolactone. Based on dynamic chromosomal loci identified earlier in M. ulcerans, we characterized large sequence polymorphisms for the phylogenetic analysis of MPMs. Here, we identify new insertional-deletional events and single-nucleotide polymorphisms that confirm and redefine earlier strain differentiation markers. These results support other data showing that all MPMs share a common ancestry. In addition, we found unique genetic features specific for M. marinum strain M, the genome sequence strain which is used widely in research.
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