A global survey of mycobacterial diversity in soil

Corinne M. Walsh*, Matthew J. Gebert, Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo, Fernando T. Maestre, Noah Fierer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Mycobacteria are a diverse bacterial group ubiquitous in many soil and aquatic environments. Members of this group have been associated with human and other animal diseases, including the nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM), which are of growing relevance to public health worldwide. Although soils are often considered an important source of environmentally acquired NTM infections, the biodiversity and ecological preferences of soil mycobacteria remain largely unexplored across contrasting climates and ecosystem types. Using a culture-independent approach by combining 16S rRNA marker gene sequencing with mycobacterium-specific hsp65 gene sequencing, we analyzed the diversity, distributions, and environmental preferences of soil-dwelling mycobacteria in 143 soil samples collected from a broad range of ecosystem types. The surveyed soils harbored highly diverse mycobacterial communities that span the full extent of the known mycobacterial phylogeny, with most soil mycobacteria (97% of mycobacterial clades) belonging to previously undescribed lineages. While mycobacteria tended to have higher relative abundances in cool, wet, and acidic soil environments, several individual mycobacterial clades had contrasting environmental preferences. We identified the environmental preferences of many mycobacterial clades, including the clinically relevant Mycobacterium avium complex that was more commonly detected in wet and acidic soils. However, most of the soil mycobacteria detected were not closely related to known pathogens, calling into question previous assumptions about the general importance of soil as a source of NTM infections. Together, this work provides novel insights into the diversity, distributions, and ecological preferences of soil mycobacteria and lays the foundation for future efforts to link mycobacterial phenotypes to their distributions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01180
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Society for Microbiology.


  • Mycobacteria
  • Mycobacterium
  • Soil microbiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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