New technique reveals interesting patterns of infection of tuberculosis in East Greenland

Statens Serum Institut has participated in a study that describes an outbreak of tuberculosis in East Greenland. Using whole-genome sequencing, the research group examined all Mycobacterium tuberculosis strains from the area. The results have just been published in Scientific Reports.

A research team from SSI, Copenhagen University Hospital and the University of Southern Denmark in collaboration with Forschungzentrum Borstel in Germany performed whole genome sequencing to assess the total DNA profile of all M. tuberculosis (TB) strains from East Greenland. This data was used to characterize transmission patterns in the area over a 21-year period.

The study showed that TB spread to East Greenland in the 1970s and expanded in the 1990s and again around 2005 - the last two were periods of reduced focus on TB control in Greenland. Transmission was localized in towns and settlements and despite low genetic diversity among TB strains, whole genome sequencing data revealed recent transmission events. This highlights the significance that even short interruptions in TB control can have in areas of high TB incidence. These findings are relevant for global efforts of reducing the incidence of TB and demonstrates the potential of whole genome sequencing in guiding public health decisions in this area.

"The study is interesting; using a relatively new technique we have been able to identify transmission patterns in an isolated, arctic area, with a particularly high incidence of tuberculosis. One of the most interesting findings is how the tuberculosis bacterium seems to spread each time the focus on tuberculosis control was reduced "says physician and Ph.D. Karen Bjørn Mortensen.

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Bjorn-Mortensen K, Soborg B, Koch A, Ladefoged K, Merker M, T Lillebaek, Andersen AB, S Niemann, A. Kohl, Sci Rep. 2016 Sep 12;6:33180:

Tracing Mycobacterium tuberculosis transmission by whole genome sequencing in a high incidence setting: a retrospective population-based study in East Greenland.