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Molecular techniques such as IS6110-RFLP typing and spacer oligonucleotide typing (spoligotyping) have aided in understanding the transmission patterns of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The degree of clustering of isolates on the basis of genotypes is informative of the extent of transmission in a given geographic area. We analyzed 130 published data sets of M. tuberculosis isolates, each representing a sample of bacterial isolates from a specific geographic region, typed with either or both of the IS6110-RFLP and spoligotyping methods. We explored common features and differences among these samples. Using population models, we found that the presence of large clusters (typically associated with recent transmission) as well as a large number of singletons (genotypes found exactly once in the data set) is consistent with an expanding infectious population. We also estimated the mutation rate of spoligotype patterns relative to IS6110 patterns and found the former rate to be about 10-26% of the latter. This study illustrates the utility of examining the full distribution of genotype cluster sizes from a given region, in the light of population genetic models. (C) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.