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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Identification of Mycobacterium spp. of veterinary importance using rpoB gene sequencing

James Higgins1*, Patrick Camp1, David Farrell1, Doris Bravo1, Mateja Pate2 and Suelee Robbe-Austerman1

Author Affiliations

1 Mycobacteria and Brucella Section, National Veterinary Services Laboratories, USDA-APHIS, 1920 Dayton Ave, Ames, IA 50010, USA

2 Veterinary Faculty, Institute of Microbiology and Parasitology, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia

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BMC Veterinary Research 2011, 7:77  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-7-77

Published: 25 November 2011



Studies conducted on Mycobacterium spp. isolated from human patients indicate that sequencing of a 711 bp portion of the rpoB gene can be useful in assigning a species identity, particularly for members of the Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC). Given that MAC are important pathogens in livestock, companion animals, and zoo/exotic animals, we were interested in evaluating the use of rpoB sequencing for identification of Mycobacterium isolates of veterinary origin.


A total of 386 isolates, collected over 2008 - June 2011 from 378 animals (amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals) underwent PCR and sequencing of a ~ 711 bp portion of the rpoB gene; 310 isolates (80%) were identified to the species level based on similarity at ≥ 98% with a reference sequence. The remaining 76 isolates (20%) displayed < 98% similarity with reference sequences and were assigned to a clade based on their location in a neighbor-joining tree containing reference sequences. For a subset of 236 isolates that received both 16S rRNA and rpoB sequencing, 167 (70%) displayed a similar species/clade assignation for both sequencing methods. For the remaining 69 isolates, species/clade identities were different with each sequencing method. Mycobacterium avium subsp. hominissuis was the species most frequently isolated from specimens from pigs, cervids, companion animals, cattle, and exotic/zoo animals.


rpoB sequencing proved useful in identifying Mycobacterium isolates of veterinary origin to clade, species, or subspecies levels, particularly for assemblages (such as the MAC) where 16S rRNA sequencing alone is not adequate to demarcate these taxa. rpoB sequencing can represent a cost-effective identification tool suitable for routine use in the veterinary diagnostic laboratory.