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A first: scientists isolate, characterize the organism that causes Buruli ulcer

An international team of 17 researchers from four countries has for the first time isolated from the environment and fully characterized the organism that causes Buruli ulcer. The study, published March 26th in the open-access journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, lends support to the idea that the organism, Mycobacterium ulcerans, is transmitted to humans from environmental aquatic niches, rather than from person to person.

Buruli ulcer is a neglected, devastating, necrotizing disease, sometimes producing massive, disfiguring ulcers, with huge social impact. The disease occurs predominantly in impoverished, humid, tropical, rural areas of Africa, where the incidence has been increasing, surpassing tuberculosis and leprosy (two other diseases caused by mycobacteria) in some regions. Besides being a disease of the poor, Buruli ulcer is a poverty-promoting chronic infectious disease.

Although it has long been believed that Mycobacterium ulcerans is an environmental pathogen transmitted to humans from its aquatic niches, until now the organism has not been isolated in pure culture from environmental sources.

Françoise Portaels (Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerpen, Belgium) and colleagues in Ghana, Portugal, and the US, now present details of the isolation and characterization of a Mycobacterium ulcerans strain from the environment. To the best of their knowledge, this is the first time that the organism has ever been isolated and fully characterized from the environment.

The isolated strain has microbiological features typical of African strains of Mycobacterium ulcerans and was isolated from an aquatic insect (the Water Strider) from a Buruli ulcer-endemic area in Benin, West Africa.

"Our findings support the concept that Mycobacterium ulcerans is a pathogen of humans with an aquatic environmental niche," say the authors "and will have positive consequences for the control of this neglected and socially important tropical disease."

In a related expert commentary, Tim Stinear (Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia) and Paul Johnson (Austin Hospital, Heidelberg, Australia), who were not involved in the study, say that the new study is “a major achievement and will serve as the definitive reference point for scientists’ intent on revealing the ecology, environmental reservoir, and precise mode of transmission of Mycobacterium ulcerans.”

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PLEASE ADD THESE LINKS TO THE PUBLISHED ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT:
http://www.plosntds.org/doi/pntd.0000178
http://www.plosntds.org/doi/pntd.0000216
(links will go live on Wednesday, March 26)

CITATIONS:

Portaels F, Meyers WM, Ablordey A, Castro AG, Chemlal K, et al. (2008) First Cultivation and Characterization of Mycobacterium ulcerans from the Environment. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 2(3): e178. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0000178

Stinear T, Johnson PDR (2008) First Isolation of Mycobacterium ulcerans from an Aquatic Environment: The End of a 60-Year Search" PLoS Negl Trop Dis 2(3): e216. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0000216

CONTACT:

Françoise Portaels, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerpen, Belgium
portaels@itg.be
Telephone: 32-3-2476317
Fax: 32-3-2476333

Wayne M Meyers, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Department of Infectious & Parasitic Diseases,
Washington, DC
wmekmeyers@comcast.net
Telephone: 301 776 8973

For expert commentary:
Tim Stinear
Monash University
61 3 9905 4338
61 3 99054811 (fax)
tim.stinear@med.monash.edu.au

Disclaimer

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About PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases

PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases (http://www.plosntds.org/) is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal devoted to the pathology, epidemiology, prevention, treatment, and control of the neglected tropical diseases, as well as public policy relevant to this group of diseases. All works published in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases are open access, which means that everything is immediately and freely available subject only to the condition that the original authorship and source are properly attributed. The Public Library of Science uses the Creative Commons Attribution License, and copyright is retained by the authors.

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