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TEM micrograph of M. tuberculosis.
Scientific classification
A close up of a culture of M. tuberculosis. The patches that look like foam are the typical growth pattern of these bacteria

Mycobacterium is a genus of bacteria, with about 100 species.The genus includes pathogens known to cause serious diseases in mammals, including tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) and leprosy (Mycobacterium leprae).[1]

Mycobacteria can colonize their hosts without the hosts showing any adverse signs. Many people around the world have infections of M. tuberculosis without showing any signs of it.

Mycobacterial infections are difficult to treat. The organisms are tough due to their cell wall.[2] In addition, they are naturally resistant to a number of antibiotics that disrupt cell-wall building, such as penicillin. With their unique cell wall, they can survive long exposure to acids, alkalis, detergents, oxidative bursts, lysis by complement, and many antibiotics.

Most mycobacteria are susceptible to the antibiotics clarithromycin and rifamycin, but antibiotic-resistant strains have emerged.

The Greek prefix myco means "fungus". When they are cultured on the surface of liquids, mycobacteria growth is similar to that of moulds, a kind of fungus.[3]


  1. Ryan KJ & Ray CG (eds) (2004). Sherris Medical Microbiology. 4th ed, McGraw Hill. ISBN 0-8385-8529-9 . 
  2. which is neither truly Gram negative nor positive
  3. James H. Kerr and Terry L. Barrett, "Atypical mycobacterial diseases", Military Dermatology Textbook, p. 401.