Nunavik, Québec suffers from epidemic tuberculosis (TB), with an incidence 50-fold higher than the Canadian average. Molecular studies in this region have documented limited bacterial genetic diversity among Mycobacterium tuberculosis isolates, consistent with a founder strain and/or ongoing spread. We have used whole-genome sequencing on 163 M. tuberculosis isolates from 11 geographically isolated villages to provide a high-resolution portrait of bacterial genetic diversity in this setting. All isolates were lineage 4 (Euro-American), with two sublineages present (major, n = 153; minor, n = 10). Among major sublineage isolates, there was a median of 46 pairwise single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), and the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) was in the early 20th century. Pairs of isolates within a village had significantly fewer SNPs than pairs from different villages (median: 6 vs. 47, P < 0.00005), indicating that most transmission occurs within villages. There was an excess of nonsynonymous SNPs after the diversification of M. tuberculosis within Nunavik: The ratio of nonsynonymous to synonymous substitution rates (dN/dS) was 0.534 before the MRCA but 0.777 subsequently (P = 0.010). Nonsynonymous SNPs were detected across all gene categories, arguing against positive selection and toward genetic drift with relaxation of purifying selection. Supporting the latter possibility, 28 genes were partially or completely deleted since the MRCA, including genes previously reported to be essential for M. tuberculosis growth. Our findings indicate that the epidemiologic success of M. tuberculosis in this region is more likely due to an environment conducive to TB transmission than a particularly well-adapted strain.
BACKGROUND: Between November 2011 and November 2012, a Canadian village of 933 persons had 50 culture-positive cases of tuberculosis, with 49 sharing the same genotype.
METHODS: We performed Illumina-based whole-genome sequencing on Mycobacterium tuberculosis isolates from this village, during and before the outbreak. Phylogenetic trees were generated using the maximum likelihood method.
RESULTS: Three distinct genotypes were identified. Strain I (n = 7) was isolated in 1991-1996. Strain II (n = 8) was isolated in 1996-2004. Strain III (n = 62) first appeared in 2007 and did not arise from strain I or II. Within strain III, there were 3 related but distinct clusters: IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC. Between 2007 and 2010, cluster IIIA predominated (11 of 22 vs 2 of 40; P < .001), whereas in 2011-2012 clusters IIIB (n = 18) and IIIC (n = 20) predominated over cluster IIIA (n = 11). Combined evolutionary and epidemiologic analysis of strain III cases revealed that the outbreak in 2011-2012 was the result of ≥6 temporally staggered events, spanning from 1 reactivation case to a point-source outbreak of 20 cases.
CONCLUSIONS: After the disappearance of 2 strains of M. tuberculosis in this village, its reemergence in 2007 was followed by an epidemiologic amplification, affecting >5% of the population.