Molecular epidemiology: using the most up-to-date technology for tuberculosis surveillance

MTBC isolates can be classified into seven major lineages, globally. Efficient surveillance worldwide can help to prevent TB-outbreaks and transmission. Photo: Courtesy of: Niemann et al, Microbiol Spectr 4(6):TBTB2-0022-2016

To date, no comprehensive and reliable data on the spread of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis strains exist in Germany. With the current and future influx of refugees, these data are becoming more important than ever. Molecular epidemiological studies are to document the spread of TB and pinpoint new and potentially dangerous TB strains as early as possible. The latest DNA sequencing technology for analysing bacterial genomes is being implemented to this effect. This sequencing data will be combined with the standard epidemiological data collected by the Robert Koch Institute, and/or be transferred to the European Surveillance System (TESSy) database for communicable diseases. For the DZIF study, the epidemiological data and sputum samples required for the DNA sequencing will be collected at three sites: Hannover, Hamburg and Frankfurt. With this, the researchers hope to portray the spread of multidrug-resistant strains in Germany.

High disease rates in Africa

However, nowadays, over 95 percent of all TB cases are being registered in developing countries, with the highest rate of new infections being recorded in Sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, many epidemiological studies are being conducted in Africa, together with the DZIF African Partner Institutions, and are being supported by further international networks such as CANTAM, PANACEA and TB Sequel.

Merging data and portraying all tuberculosis strains

The researchers aim to obtain long-term molecular epidemiological data on tuberculosis bacteria. The database being established is to portray all confirmed tuberculosis strains as broadly as possible and enable quick comparisons with other databases. Around 7000 strains have been sequenced at the DZIF since March 2015.

: Stefan Niemann, Research Center Borstel





Project coordinator:

Stefan Niemann



Publication (see image):

Niemann S, Merker M, Kohl T, Supply P. 2016. Impact of
genetic diversity on the biology of Mycobacterium tuberculosis
complex strains. Microbiol Spectrum 4(6):TBTB2-0022-2016.