New Species Behind Leprosy?

There have been discussions on the role of a novel species of Mycobacterium, M. lepromatosis, in the causation of Leprosy for a long time now. In 2008, Han and colleagues (1) found the novel bacterium as the causative organism behind diffuse lepromatous leprosy. A new paper (2) published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has further strengthened the premise of a novel species causing leprosy by conducting a whole genome study.

The concept that Mycobaterium leprae is the only causative organism behind the disfiguring disease which has almost been eliminated from many parts of the world, now stands challenged by the emergence of this new evidence. The contribution of this new species to the overall case load and what implications it holds for public health approaches to control the disease in the long run needs to be reexamined.
The new paper, by Singha et al, has isolated Mycobacterium lepromatosis from the skin lesions of a patient suffering from diffuse lepromatous leprosy and has conducted a whole genome sequencing, followed by comparison with that of the Mycobacterium leprae, to establish the unique identities of the two different organisms.


1. Han XY, Seo YH, Sizer KC, Schoberle T, May GS, Spencer JS, Li W, Nair RG. A new _Mycobacterium_ species causing diffuse lepromatous leprosy. Am J Clin Pathol. 2008 Dec;130(6):856-64. doi: 10.1309/AJCPP72FJZZRRVMM.
2. Singha P, Benjaka A, Schuenemannb VJ, Herbigb A, et al. Insight into the evolution and origin of leprosy bacilli from the genome sequence of Mycobacterium lepromatosis. PNAS. March 18, 2015. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1421504112.

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