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a genus of bacteria, related to actinomycetes; it differs from true bacteria in a number of ways. The young vegetative cells are rodlike (0.5–0.8 × 2.2 microns); they are capable of branching and acquiring V or Y shapes. In old cultures spherical cells predominate. Mycobacteria, which do not form endospores, are nonmotile, gram-positive, and strictly aerobic. They reproduce mainly by dividing and budding. Mycobacteria contain carotenoids, and, as a result, their colonies are often pigmented (yellow, orange, or red). Owing to their cell composition (including lipides and wax), some myco-bacteria, in contrast to other bacteria, are acid-fast.
Mycobacteria are widely distributed in soils and are active in the mineralization of plant remains. Some species of Mycobacterium are nitrogen-fixing microorganisms; others are capable of metabolizing the carbohydrates of petroleum and natural gas and, when cultured, accumulate protein, which is used for fodder and other purposes. Some species of Mycobacterium are pathogenic to humans (for example, mycobacteria are the causative agents of tuberculosis and leprosy).
A. A. IMSHENETSKII