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J Bacteriol. 2008 Apr;190(7):2479-87. doi: 10.1128/JB.01691-07. Epub 2008 Feb 1.

Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis and M. avium subsp. avium are independently evolved pathogenic clones of a much broader group of M. avium organisms.

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McGill University Health Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3G 1A4.


Mycobacterium avium comprises organisms that share the same species designation despite considerable genomic and phenotypic variability. To determine the degree and nature of variability between subspecies and strains of M. avium, we used multilocus sequencing analysis, studying 56 genetically diverse strains of M. avium that included all described subspecies. In total, 8,064 bp of sequence from 10 gene loci were studied, with 205 (2.5%) representing variable positions. The majority (149/205) of these variations were found among M. avium subsp. hominissuis organisms. Recombination was also evident in this subspecies. In contrast, there was comparatively little variability and no evidence of recombination within the pathogenic subspecies, M. avium subsp. paratuberculosis, M. avium subsp. avium, and M. avium subsp. silvaticum. Phylogenetic analysis showed that M. avium subsp. avium and M. avium subsp. silvaticum strains clustered together on one branch, while a distinct branch defined M. avium subsp. paratuberculosis organisms. Despite the independent origin of these pathogenic subspecies, an analysis of their rates of nonsynonymous (dN) to synonymous (dS) substitutions showed increased dN/dS ratios for both: 0.67 for M. avium subsp. paratuberculosis and 0.50 for M. avium subsp. avium/M. avium subsp. silvaticum, while the value was 0.08 for M. avium subsp. hominissuis organisms. In conclusion, M. avium subsp. hominissuis represents a diverse group of organisms from which two pathogenic clones (M. avium subsp. paratuberculosis and M. avium subsp. avium/M. avium subsp. silvaticum) have evolved independently.

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