Leprosy and tuberculosis are age-old diseases that have tormented mankind and left behind a legacy of fear, mutilation, and social stigmatization. Today, leprosy is considered a Neglected Tropical Disease due to its high prevalence in developing countries, while tuberculosis is highly endemic in developing countries and rapidly re-emerging in several developed countries. In order to eradicate these diseases effectively, it is necessary to understand how they first originated in humans and whether they are prevalent in nonhuman hosts which can serve as a source of zoonotic transmission. This dissertation uses a phylogenomics approach to elucidate the evolutionary histories of the pathogens that cause leprosy and tuberculosis, Mycobacterium leprae and the M. tuberculosis complex, respectively, through three related studies. In the first study, genomes of M. leprae strains that infect nonhuman primates were sequenced and compared to human M. leprae strains to determine their genetic relationships. This study assesses whether nonhuman primates serve as a reservoir for M. leprae and whether there is potential for transmission of M. leprae between humans and nonhuman primates. In the second study, the genome of M. lepraemurium (which causes leprosy in mice, rats, and cats) was sequenced to clarify its genetic relationship to M. leprae and other mycobacterial species. This study is the first to sequence the M. lepraemurium genome and also describes genes that may be important for virulence in this pathogen. In the third study, an ancient DNA approach was used to recover M. tuberculosis genomes from human skeletal remains from the North American archaeological record. This study informs us about the types of M. tuberculosis strains present in post-contact era North America. Overall, this dissertation informs us about the evolutionary histories of these pathogens and their prevalence in nonhuman hosts, which is not only important in an anthropological context but also has significant implications for disease eradication and wildlife conservation.
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