Effective chemotherapy of tuberculosis requires rapid assessment of drug sensitivity because of the emergence of multidrug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Drug susceptibility was assessed by a simple method based on the efficient production of photons by viable mycobacteria infected with specific reporter phages expressing the firefly luciferase gene. Light production was dependent on phage infection, expression of the luciferase gene, and the level of cellular adenosine triphosphate. Signals could be detected within minutes after infection of virulent M. tuberculosis with reporter phages. Culture of conventional strains with antituberculosis drugs, including isoniazid or rifampicin, resulted in extinction of light production. In contrast, light signals after luciferase reporter phage infection of drug-resistant strains continued to be produced. Luciferase reporter phages may help to reduce the time required for establishing antibiotic sensitivity of M. tuberculosis strains from weeks to days and to accelerate screening for new antituberculosis drugs.
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