LONDON "Scientifically it's a fantastic achievement. In terms of what we will know about what it takes to become an intracellular pathogen, it's the biggest achievement for decades," said Jo Colston, Head of Mycobacterial Research at the UK's National Institute for Medical Research, in response to the publication of the genome of Mycobacterium leprae in 22 February Nature.

But at the end of 1999, the World Health Organisation (WHO) extended its deadline for the "elimination" of leprosy — meaning a reduction in the number of known cases to 1 in 10,000 within affected communities — from 2000 to 2005. The original deadline had been set in 1991 and a decade of 'elimination' strategies has led to a collapse in research funding for the disease. The European Commission, for example, awarded its last grant for leprosy research five years ago. Most mycobacterial researchers have sensibly moved over to studying...

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