The environmental persistence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis is subject to speculation. However, the reality that infected postmortem tissues can be a danger to pathologists and embalmers has worrisome implications. A few experimental studies have demonstrated the organism’s ability to withstand exposure to embalming fluid and formalin. Recently, a failure was reported in an attempt to resuscitate an original isolate of Robert Koch to determine the lifetime of the tubercle bacillus. This study considers a historical approach to determine persistence under favorable environmental conditions and asks whether acid-fast forms observed in tissues of 300-year-old Hungarian mummies can be resuscitated. Finding organisms before the advent of antibiotics and pasteurization may yield valuable genetic information. Using various media modifications, as well as guinea pig inoculation, an attempt was made to culture these tissues for M. tuberculosis. In addition, a resuscitation-promoting factor, known to increase colony counts in high G+C bacteria, was applied to the cultures. Although an occasional PCR-positive sample was detected, no colonies of M. tuberculosis were obtained. Our results may indicate that the life span of the tubercle bacillus is less than a few hundred years, even though in the short run it can survive harsh chemical treatment.
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