Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the causative agent of the global tuberculosis epidemic. To combat this successful human pathogen we need a better understanding of the basic biology of mycobacterial pathogenesis. The use of mycobacterial model systems has the potential to greatly facilitate our understanding of how M. tuberculosis causes disease. Recently, studies using mycobacterial models, including M. bovis BCG, M. marinum, and M. smegmatis have significantly contributed to understanding M. tuberculosis. Specifically, there have been advances in genetic manipulation of M. tuberculosis using inducible promoters and recombineering that alleviate technical limitations in working with mycobacteria. Model systems have helped elucidate how secretion systems function at both the molecular level and during virulence. Mycobacterial models have also led to interesting hypotheses about how M. tuberculosis mediates latent infection and host response. While there is utility in using model systems to understand tuberculosis, each of these models represent distinct mycobacterial species with unique environmental adaptations. Directly comparing findings in model mycobacteria to those in M. tuberculosis will illuminate the similarities and differences between these species and increase our understanding of why M. tuberculosis is such a potent human pathogen.
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