The bacteria responsible for tuberculosis (TB) has acquired resistance to multiple antibiotics, according to a study in the journal Nature.
TB is still responsible for 1.5 million deaths worldwide each year.
And some strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria responsible for TB infection, pose a serious health threat because antibiotics now don’t work on them.
The spread of multi-drug resistance is driven by a group of tuberculosis strains called the Beijing lineage.
Thierry Wirth of France’s Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle and colleagues analysed the genetic makeup of 4,987 tuberculosis strains, including 110 complete genomes from 99 countries, to better understand how multi-drug resistance has evolved over time.
They found multiple spikes in TB over the last 200 years, coinciding with the Industrial Revolution and the First World War followed by a drop coinciding with the rise of antibiotic use in the 1960s.
The authors traced the spread across Eurasia of two strains most associated with multi-drug resistance to the early 1990s when the public health system of the former Soviet Union collapsed.
Finally, they identified 15 genes which may have contributed to drug resistance in the Beijing lineage.