Research Highlights

What makes TB bacteria drug-resistant?

Published online 22 February 2018

Biologists track down genes that help breed multi-drug resistance in tuberculosis.

Biplab Das

Scientists have sequenced the genome of over 6,000 Mycobacterium tuberculosis clinical isolates, the pathogenic bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB), an airborne disease that usually attacks the lungs.

In their effort to pinpoint the genes responsible for anti-tuberculosis drugs resistance, the international research team, which includes scientists from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, zeroed in on a number of mutations in several genes that play vital roles in creating drug-resistant bacteria.1 

One such mutation has been found in a gene that codes a specific protein involved in transporting antibiotics across the membrane of host cells — a mechanism that makes antibiotics ineffective. Insertion and deletion of genes that encode drug-metabolizing enzymes could also have roles in breeding drug-resistant strains, according to the researchers.

Among the potential pay-offs of such a study is designing new antibiotics and resistance-detecting molecular tests. It’s also a step forward in tackling the emergence of drug-resistant TB bacteria, steadily increasing in the Middle East as per a recent study.2


  1. Coll, F. et al. Genome-wide analysis of multi- and extensively drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Nat. Genet. 50, 307–316 (2018) 
  2. Khademi, F. et al. Middle East Mycobacterium tuberculosis antibiotic resistance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Infect. Epidemiol. Med. 3, 25-35 (2017)