Dr Awelani Mutshembele

Dr Awelani Mutshembele, Postdoctoral Research Fellow: TB Platform Pretoria

Project Title: The role of region-specific single nucleotide polymorphisms in virulence genes of Mycobacterium tuberculosis drug resistance.

My research project focus on the role of virulence genes and the effect of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) specific to the F15/LAM4/KZN lineage of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This lineage is specific to South Africa and of special interest to the understanding of  the evolution and characteristics of drug resistance. The project is in collaboration with Russia and China where they conduct similar investigations in B0/N-90 and Beijing-modern 4 strains, which are of interest in their countries. Working with the University of Pretoria, Dept of Biochemistry, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Unit, I will use bioinformatics tools to (1) establish a catalogue of the sequences in virulence genes in TB resistant and susceptible F15/LAM4/KZN strains for identification of lineage specific SNPs in the South African isolates and  (2) to develop and expand a web-based program () for identification of M. tuberculosis lineages using genomes sequence data and/or raw Illumina reads. The hypothesis is that a set of detected SNPs within virulence genes will show the evolutionary relationship between TB strains that can be used for rapid lineage/sublineage detection. Future studies are needed to establish a South African specific M. tuberculosis SNPs catalog of virulence genes, which will complement the whole genome sequence (WGS) data workflows for rapid detection of lineage/sublineage and aid in speeding the diagnosis and treatment of M. tuberculosis. The catalogue will provide a critical resource for addressing some of the important questions related to drug resistance and virulence TB.