Nontuberculous mycobacteria, including those in the Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC), constitute an increasingly urgent threat to global public health. Ubiquitous in soil and water worldwide, MAC members cause a diverse array of infections in humans and animals that are often multidrug resistant, intractable, and deadly. MAC lung disease is of particular concern and is now more prevalent than tuberculosis in many countries, including the United States. Although the clinical importance of these microorganisms continues to expand, our understanding of their genomic diversity is limited, hampering basic and translational studies alike. Here, we leveraged a unique collection of genomes to characterize MAC population structure, gene content, and within-host strain dynamics in unprecedented detail. We found that different MAC species encode distinct suites of biomedically relevant genes, including antibiotic resistance genes and virulence factors, which may influence their distinct clinical manifestations. We observed that M. avium isolates from different sources-human pulmonary infections, human disseminated infections, animals, and natural environments-are readily distinguished by their core and accessory genomes, by their patterns of horizontal gene transfer, and by numerous specific genes, including virulence factors. We identified highly similar MAC strains from distinct patients within and across two geographically distinct clinical cohorts, providing important insights into the reservoirs which seed community acquisition. We also discovered a novel MAC genomospecies in one of these cohorts. Collectively, our results provide key genomic context for these emerging pathogens and will facilitate future exploration of MAC ecology, evolution, and pathogenesis.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01194-21
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2021


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