Leprosy bacterium changed little in last millennium

Genome alterations probably not responsible for decline in disease prevalence

By Tina Hesman Saey, 19:59 PM June 28, 2013

The bacterium that causes leprosy still packs the same punch it did in the Middle Ages, a study of the organism’s genome reveals.

Mycobacterium leprae causes skin sores, nerve damage and skeletal disfigurement. About 200,000 people worldwide contract leprosy each year. In early medieval Europe the bacterial infection was more common, but its incidence began to wane in the 16th century.

M. leprae has a bare-bones genome that doesn’t allow the microbe to survive outside a human or animal host. Ab...

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