Reconstituting the genus Mycobacterium

Int J Syst Evol Microbiol. 2021 Sep;71(9):004922. doi: 10.1099/ijsem.0.004922.


The definition of a genus has wide-ranging implications both in terms of binomial species names and also evolutionary relationships. In recent years, the definition of the genus Mycobacterium has been debated due to the proposed split of this genus into five new genera (Mycolicibacterium, Mycolicibacter, Mycolicibacillus, Mycobacteroides and an emended Mycobacterium). Since this group of species contains many important obligate and opportunistic pathogens, it is important that any renaming of species does not cause confusion in clinical treatment as outlined by the nomen periculosum rule (56a) of the Prokaryotic Code. In this study, we evaluated the proposed and original genus boundaries for the mycobacteria, to determine if the split into five genera was warranted. By combining multiple approaches for defining genus boundaries (16S rRNA gene similarity, amino acid identity index, average nucleotide identity, alignment fraction and percentage of conserved proteins) we show that the original genus Mycobacterium is strongly supported over the proposed five-way split. Thus, we propose that the original genus label be reapplied to all species within this group, with the proposed five genera potentially used as sub-genus complex names.

Keywords: Mycobacterium; genome; genus.

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Typing Techniques
  • Base Composition
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Fatty Acids* / chemistry
  • Mycobacterium* / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Fatty Acids
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S