Whole genome sequencing better at tracing TB outbreaks than standard test

February 19, 2013

A new form of genetic testing of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis can provide better information on TB transmission and also trace TB outbreaks more accurately than the current standard test, according to a study from Germany published in this week's PLOS Medicine.

A team of researchers led by Stefan Niemann from Forschungszentrum Borstel, Molecular Mycobacteriology, compared the results of the two types of tests on 86 M. tuberculosis isolates from a TB outbreak in the German states of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein between 1997 and 2010, in which 2301 people were diseased in the study period.

They found that the new test () provided more accurate information on clustering and longitudinal spread of the pathogen than the standard test (classical genotyping). Importantly, whole genome sequencing revealed that first outbreak isolates were falsely clustered by classical genotyping and do not belong to one recent .

By using whole genome sequencing, the authors estimated that the genetic material of M. tuberculosis evolved at a rate at 0.4 mutations per genome per year, suggesting that the bacterium grows in its natural host (infected people) with a doubling time of 22 hours, or 400 generations per year. This finding about the evolution of M. tuberculosis indicates how information from whole genome sequencing can be used to help trace future outbreaks.

Importantly, as the costs of whole genome sequencing are declining, this test could soon become the standard method for identifying transmission patterns and rates of infectious disease outbreaks.

The authors say: "Our study demonstrates that whole genome sequencing-based typing provides epidemiologically relevant resolution of large, longitudinal [] outbreaks much more efficiently than classical ."

They continue: "We envision that [whole genome sequencing] progressive effective implementation will be accelerated by the continuously decreasing sequencing costs, broader distribution of so-called bench top genome sequencers, and upcoming bioinformatics developments to facilitate quick and relevant interpretation of the resulting data in public health and medical contexts."

Explore further: Genomics and social network analysis team up to solve disease outbreaks

More information: PLoS Med 10(2): e1001387. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001387

Related Stories

TB outbreaks could be 'solved' by DNA tracking

September 3, 2012

Reconstructing the spread of killer diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) from person to person using DNA sequencing quickly identifies the origin and movement of pathogens. This approach is directly informing public health ...

Recommended for you

Monkeys in Asia harbor virus from humans, other species

November 19, 2015

When it comes to spreading viruses, bats are thought to be among the worst. Now a new study of nearly 900 nonhuman primates in Bangladesh and Cambodia shows that macaques harbor more diverse astroviruses, which can cause ...

One-step test for hepatitis C virus infection developed

November 14, 2015

UC Irvine Health researchers have developed a cost-effective one-step test that screens, detects and confirms hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections. Dr. Ke-Qin Hu, director of hepatology services, will present findings at the ...

Computer model reveals deadly route of Ebola outbreak

November 10, 2015

Using a novel statistical model, a research team led by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health mapped the spread of the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, providing the most detailed picture to date ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.