The population structure of Mycobacterium bovis in Great Britain: Clonal expansion

Noel H. Smith, James Dale, Jacqueline Inwald, Si Palmer, Stephen V. Gordon, R. Glyn Hewinson, John Maynard Smith*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

130 Citations (SciVal)


We have analyzed 11,500 isolates of Mycobacterium bovis (the cause of tuberculosis in cattle and other mammals) isolated in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland)] and characterized by spoligotype. Genetic exchange between cells is rare or absent in strains of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex so that, by using spoligotypes, it is possible to recognize "clones" with a recent common ancestor. The distribution of variable numbers of tandem repeats types in the most common clone in the data set is incompatible with random mutation and drift. The most plausible explanation is a series of "clonal expansions," and this interpretation is supported by the geographical distribution of different genotypes. We suggest that the clonal expansion of a genotype is caused either by the spread of a favorable mutation, together with all other genes present in the ancestral cell in which the mutation occurred, or by the invasion of a novel geographical region by a limited number of genotypes. A similar pattern is observed in M. tuberculosis (the main cause of tuberculosis in humans). The significance of clonal expansion in other bacteria that have recombination is discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15271-15275
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number25
Publication statusPublished - 09 Dec 2003


  • Bacterial evolution
  • Bovine tuberculosis
  • Spoligotype
  • Variable numbers of tandem repeats


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