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Summary

Despite over a century of research, tuberculosis remains a leading cause of infectious death worldwide. Faced with increasing rates of drug resistance, the identification of genes that are required for the growth of this organism should provide new targets for the design of antimycobacterial agents. Here, we describe the use of transposon site hybridization (TraSH) to comprehensively identify the genes required by the causative agent, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, for optimal growth. These genes include those that can be assigned to essential pathways as well as many of unknown function. The genes important for the growth of M. tuberculosis are largely conserved in the degenerate genome of the leprosy bacillus, Mycobacterium leprae, indicating that non-essential functions have been selectively lost since this bacterium diverged from other mycobacteria. In contrast, a surprisingly high proportion of these genes lack identifiable orthologues in other bacteria, suggesting that the minimal gene set required for survival varies greatly between organisms with different evolutionary histories.