Knowledge of the clonal expansion of Mycobacterium tuberculosis and accurate identification of predominant evolutionary lineages in this species remain limited, especially with regard to low-IS6110-copy-number strains. In this study, 170 M. tuberculosis isolates with </=6 IS6110 insertions identified in Cape Town, South Africa, were characterized by principal genetic grouping, restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis, spoligotyping, IS6110 insertion site mapping, and variable-number tandem repeat (VNTR) typing. These analyses indicated that all but one of the isolates analyzed were members of principal genetic group 2 and of the same low-IS6110-copy-number lineage. The remaining isolate was a member of principal genetic group 1 and a different low-IS6110-copy-number lineage. Phylogenetic reconstruction suggests clonal expansion through sequential acquisition of additional IS6110 copies, expansion and contraction of VNTR sequences, and the deletion of specific direct-variable-repeat sequences. Furthermore, comparison of the genotypic data of 91 representative low-IS6110-copy-number isolates from Cape Town, other southern African regions, Europe, and the United States suggests that certain low-IS6110-copy-number strain spoligotypes and IS6110 fingerprints were acquired in the distant past. These clones have subsequently become widely disseminated and now play an important role in the global tuberculosis epidemic.