Oligonucleotides specific at a genus, group, or species level were defined by a systematic comparison of small-subunit rRNA sequences from Mycobacterium tuberculosis, M. bovis, M. africanum, M. bovis BCG, M. avium, M. kansasii, M. marinum, M. gastri, M. chelonae, M. smegmatis, M. terrae, M. nonchromogenicum, M. xenopi, M. malmoense, M. szulgai, M. scrofulaceum, M. fortuitum, M. gordonae, M. intracellulare, M. simiae, M. flavescens, M. paratuberculosis, M. sphagni, M. cookii, M. komossense, M. phlei, and M. farcinica. On the basis of the defined oligonucleotides, the polymerase chain reaction technique was explored to develop a sensitive taxon-specific detection system for mycobacteria. By using M. tuberculosis as a model system, fewer than 10 bacteria could be reliably detected by this kind of assay. These results suggest that amplification of rRNA sequences by the polymerase chain reaction may provide a highly sensitive and specific tool for the direct detection of microorganisms without the need for prior cultivation
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