Generalist and specialist species differ in the breadth of their ecological niches. Little is known about the niche width of obligate human pathogens. Here we analyzed a global collection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis lineage 4 clinical isolates, the most geographically widespread cause of human tuberculosis. We show that lineage 4 comprises globally distributed and geographically restricted sublineages, suggesting a distinction between generalists and specialists. Population genomic analyses showed that, whereas the majority of human T cell epitopes were conserved in all sublineages, the proportion of variable epitopes was higher in generalists. Our data further support a European origin for the most common generalist sublineage. Hence, the global success of lineage 4 reflects distinct strategies adopted by different sublineages and the influence of human migration.
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