E. coli

Escherichia coli

Conservation status
Scientific classification
Class:Gamma Proteobacteria
Species:E. coli
Binomial name
Escherichia coli
(Migula 1895)
Castellani and Chalmers 1919
Escherichia coli (IPA: [ˌɛ.ʃəˈɹɪ.kjə ˈkʰoʊ.laɪ]) (E. coli), is one of many species of bacteria living in the lower intestines of mammals, known as gut flora. When located in the large intestine, it assists with waste processing, vitamin K production, and food absorption. Discovered in 1885 by Theodor Escherich, a German pediatrician and bacteriologist,[1] E. coli are abundant: the number of individual E. coli bacteria in the feces that a human defecates in one day averages between 100 billion and 10 trillion. However, the bacteria are not confined to this environment, and specimens have also been located, for example, on the edge of hot springs. The E. coli strain is one of hundreds of strains of the bacterium that causes illness in humans.[2]

E. coli are unable to sporulate. Thus, treatments which kill all active bacteria, such as pasteurization or simple boiling, are effective for their eradication, without requiring the more rigorous sterilization which also deactivates spores.

As a result of their adaptation to mammalian intestines, E. coli grow best in vivo or at the higher temperatures characteristic of such an environment, rather than the cooler temperatures found in soil and other environments.

Role in disease

E. coli can generally cause several intestinal and extra-intestinal infections such as urinary tract infections, meningitis, peritonitis, mastitis, septicemia and Gram-negative pneumonia.

Virulence properties

The enteric E. coli are divided on the basis of virulence properties into enterotoxigenic (ETEC, causative agent of diarrhea in humans, pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, dogs, and horses), enteropathogenic (EPEC, causative agent of diarrhea in humans, rabbits, dogs, cats and horses); enteroinvasive (EIEC, found only in humans), verotoxigenic (VTEC, found in pigs, cattle, dogs and cats); enterohaemorrhagic (EHEC, found in humans, cattle, and goats, attacking porcine strains that colonize the gut in a manner similar to human EPEC strains) and enteroaggregative E. coli (EAggEC, found only in humans).

Urinary tract infections

It is much more common in females due to the shorter urethra (25–50 mm / 1-2 inches) compared to males (about 20 cm / 8 inches). Among the elderly UTI is in roughly equal proportions in men and women. Since bacteria invariably enter the urinary tract through the urethra (an ascending infection), poor toilet habits can predispose to infection (doctors often advise women to "wipe front to back, not back to front") but other factors are also important: (pregnancy in women, prostate enlargement in men) and in many cases the initiating event is unclear. While ascending infections are generally the rule for lower urinary tract infections and cystitis, the same may not necessarily be true for upper urinary tract infections like pyelonephritis which may be hematogenous in origin. Most cases of lower urinary tract infections in females are benign and do not need exhaustive laboratory work-ups. However, UTI in young infants must receive some imaging study, typically a retrograde urethrogram, to ascertain the presence/absence of congenital urinary tract anomalies. Males too must be investigated further. Specific methods of investigation include x-ray, MRI and CAT scan technology.


Enlarge picture
Low-temperature electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria, magnified 10,000 times. Each individual bacterium is oblong shaped.

If E. coli bacteria escape the intestinal tract through a perforation (hole or tear, for example from an ulcer, a ruptured appendix, or a surgical error) and enter the abdomen, they usually cause peritonitis that can be fatal without prompt treatment. However, E. coli are extremely sensitive to such antibiotics as streptomycin or gentamycin, so treatment with antibiotics is usually effective. This could rapidly change, since, as noted below, E. coli rapidly acquires drug resistance.[3]

Certain strains of E. coli, such as , Escherichia coli O121 and , are toxigenic (some produce a toxin very similar to that seen in dysentery). They can cause food poisoning usually associated with eating unwashed vegetables and contaminated meat (contaminated during or shortly after slaughter or during storage or display). O157:H7 is further notorious for causing serious, even life threatening complications like HUS (Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome). The usual countermeasure is cooking suspect meat until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (70 °C), or is "well done"; the alternative of careful inspection of slaughtering and butchering methods (to make sure that the animal's colon is removed and not punctured) has apparently not been systematically tried. This particular strain is linked to the 2006 United States E. coli outbreak of fresh spinach. Severity of the illness varies considerably; it can be fatal, particularly to young children, the elderly or the immunocompromised, but is more often mild. E. coli can harbor both heat-stable and heat-labile enterotoxins. The latter, termed LT, is highly similar in structure and function to Cholera toxin. It contains one 'A' subunit and five 'B' subunits arranged into one holotoxin. The B subunits assist in adherence and entry of the toxin into host intestinal cells, where the A subunit is cleaved and prevents cells from absorbing water, causing diarrhea. LT is secreted by the Type 2 secretion pathway[4]

It has also been shown that Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), specifically O157:H7, can be found in filth flies on cattle farms, in house flies, can grow on wounded fruit and be transmitted to and by fruit flies.[5][6][7]

Since entrotoxigenic coli can be resident in animals which are resistant to the toxin, they may be spread through direct contact on farms, at petting zoos, etc. They may also be spread via airborne particles in such environments.[8] The United States government Department of Agriculture asked in 1978 what the effect of overfeeding animals antibiotics would be. The American Academy of Science eventually responded that antibiotic resistant E. coli would develop and would be untreatable. Nonetheless, heavy dosing of antibiotics in swine and cattle feed is a routine practice at large farms.

E. coli is a frequent member of multispecies biofilms. Some strains are piliated and capable of accepting and transferring plasmids (rings of DNA) from and to other bacteria of the same and different species. E. coli often carry multidrug resistant plasmids and under stress readily transfer those plasmids to other species. Thus E. coli and the other enteroccia are important reservoirs of transferable antibiotic resistance.[9]

E. coli possess specific nucleation-precipitation machinery to produce soluble amyloid oligomers and precipitate them as curli, a network of fibers which bind the bacteria to host cells and each other. The importance of E. coli as a source of amyloid is unknown, but amyloid fibers are a component of numerous human disease processes including Alzheimer's.[10]

Antibiotic therapy

Appropriate treatment depends on the disease and should be guided by laboratory analysis of the antibiotic sensitivities of the infecting strain of E. coli. As Gram-negative organisms, E. coli are resistant to many antibiotics that are effective against Gram-positive organisms. Antibiotics which may be used to treat E. coli infection include (but are not limited to) amoxicillin as well as other semi-synthetic penicillins, many cephalosporins, carbapenems, aztreonam, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, ciprofloxacin, nitrofurantoin and the aminoglycosides. Not all antibiotics are suitable for every disease caused by E. coli, a sensitivity test along with the advice of a physician should be sought.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem. Some of this is due to overuse of antibiotics in humans, but some of it is probably due to the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in food of animals.[11] Resistance to beta-lactam antibiotics has become more serious in recent decades as strains producing extended-spectrum beta-lactamases render many, if not all, of the penicillins and cephalosporins ineffective as therapy. Susceptibility testing should guide treatment in all infections in which the organism can be isolated for culture.

A study published in the journal Science in August 2007 found that the rate of adaptative mutations in E. coli is "on the order of 10–5 per genome per generation, which is 1,000 times as high as previous estimates", a finding which may have significance for the study and management of bacterial antibiotic resistance.[12]

Phage therapy

Phage therapy—viruses that specifically target pathogenic bacteria—has been developed over the last 80 years, primarily in the former Soviet Union, where it was used to prevent diarrhea caused by E. coli, among other things, in the Red Army, and was widely available over the counter. [1] Presently, phage therapy for humans is available only at the Phage Therapy Center in the Republic of Georgia [2] or in Poland.[3]

However on January the 2nd, 2007 the FDA gave Omnilytics approval to apply its 0157:H7 killing phage in a mist, spray or wash on live animals that will be slaughtered for human consumption. [4]


E. coli vaccines have been under development for many years.[13] In March of 2006, a vaccine eliciting an immune response against the O-specific polysaccharide conjugated to recombinant exotoxin A of Pseudomonas aeruginosa (O157-rEPA) was reported to be safe and immunogenic in children two to five years old. It has already been proven safe and immunogenic in adults.[14] A phase III clinical trial to verify the large-scale efficacy of the treatment is planned.[14]

In January 2007 the Canadian bio-pharmaceutical company Bioniche announced it has developed a cattle vaccine which reduces the number of bacteria shed in manure by a factor of 1000, to about 1000 bacteria per gram of manure.[15][16][17]


Enlarge picture
Model of successive binary fission in E. coli
A "strain" of E. coli is a group with some particular characteristics that make it distinguishable from other E. coli strains. These differences are often detectable only on the molecular level; however, they may result in changes to the physiology or lifecycle of the bacterium, for example leading to pathogenicity. Different strains of E. coli live in different kinds of animals, so it is possible to tell whether fecal material in water came from humans or from birds, for example. New strains of E. coli arise all the time from the natural biological process of mutation, and some of those strains have characteristics that can be harmful to a host animal. Although in most healthy adult humans such a strain would probably cause no more than a bout of diarrhea, and might produce no symptoms at all, in young children, people who are or have recently been sick, or in people taking certain medications, an unfamiliar strain can cause serious illness and even death. A particularly virulent example of such a strain of E. coli is .

In addition, E. coli and related bacteria possess the ability to transfer DNA via bacterial conjugation, which allows a new mutation to spread through an existing population. It is believed that this process led to the spread of toxin synthesis from Shigella to E. coli O157:H7.

ESBL producing E.Coli

Extended-Spectrum Beta-Lactamase (ESBL)–producing E. coli are antibiotic-resistant strains of E. coli. ESBL-producing strains are bacteria that produce an enzyme called extended-spectrum beta lactamase, which makes them more resistant to antibiotics and makes the infections harder to treat. In many instances, only two oral antibiotics and a very limited group of intravenous antibiotics remain effective.

There is increased concern about the prevalence of this form of "superbug" in the United Kingdom has led to calls for further monitoring and a UK-wide strategy to deal with infections and the deaths caused[18].

Role in microbiology

Because of its ubiquity, E. coli is frequently studied in microbiology and is the current "workhorse" in molecular biology. Its structure is clear, and it makes for an excellent target for novice, intermediate, and advanced students of the life sciences. The strains used in the laboratory have adapted themselves effectively to that environment, and are no longer as well adapted to life in the mammalian intestines as the wild type; a major adaptation is the loss of the large quantities of external biofilm mucopolysaccharide produced by the wild type in order to protect itself from antibodies and other chemical attacks, but which require a large expenditure of the organism's energy and material resources. This can be seen when culturing the organisms on agar plates; while the laboratory strains produce well defined individual colonies, with the wild type strains the colonies are embedded within this large mass of mucopolysaccharide, making it difficult to isolate individual colonies.

Bacterial conjugation was first discovered in E. coli, and it remains the primary model to study conjugation.

Because of this long history of laboratory culture and manipulation, E. coli plays an important role in modern biological engineering. Researchers can alter the bacteria to serve as "factories" to synthesize DNA and/or proteins, which can then be produced in large quantities using the industrial fermentation processes. One of the first useful applications of recombinant DNA technology was the manipulation of E. coli to produce human insulin for patients with diabetes. [5]

Role in water purification and sewage treatment

All the different kinds of fecal coli bacteria, and all the very similar bacteria that live in the ground (in soil or decaying plants, of which the most common is Enterobacter aerogenes), are grouped together under the name coliform bacteria. Technically, the "coliform group" is defined to be all the aerobic and facultative anaerobic, non-spore-forming, Gram-negative, rod-shaped bacteria that ferment lactose with the production of gas within 48 hours at 35 °C (95 °F). In the body, this gas is released as flatulence. E. coli cells are elongated, 1–2 µm in length and 0.1–0.5 µm in diameter.

The presence of coliform bacteria in surface water is a common indicator of fecal contamination. E. coli is commonly used as a model organism for bacteria in general. This is usually done using the MPN (most probable number) tests. This is usually a probabilistic test which assumes bacteria meeting certain growth and biochemical criteria as E. coli and quantitates it by various methods. "Presence" of E. coli numbers beyond a certain cut-off indicates fecal contamination of water and indicates further investigation into the matter. Often, a "confirmatory" test - the Eijckman test is done which tests for growth at a particular temperature. Many of these tests are routinely done at water storage and distribution systems. At other places, more advanced tests have replaced them. Other organisms like Streptococcus bovis and certain clostridia species are also used as an index of fecal contamination of drinking water sources - usually animal in origin. One of the root words of the family's scientific name, "enteric", refers to the intestine, and is often used synonymously with "fecal". In the field of water purification and sewage treatment, E. coli was chosen very early in the development of the technology as an "indicator" of the pollution level of water, meaning the amount of human fecal matter in it, measured using the Coliform Index. E. coli is used for detection because there are a lot more coliforms in human feces than there are pathogens (Salmonella typhi is an example of such a pathogen, causing typhoid fever), and E. coli is usually harmless, so it can't "get loose" in the lab and hurt anyone. However, sometimes it can be misleading to use E. coli alone as an indicator of human fecal contamination because there are other environments in which E. coli grows well, such as paper mills.

See also


1. ^ Feng P, Weagant S, Grant, M (2002-09-01). Enumeration of Escherichia coli and the Coliform Bacteria. Bacteriological Analytical Manual (8th ed.). FDA/Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition. Retrieved on 2007-01-25.
2. ^ Escherichia coli O157:H7. CDC Division of Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases. Retrieved on 2007-01-25.
3. ^ Gene Sequence Of Deadly E. Coli Reveals Surprisingly Dynamic Genome. Science Daily (2001-01-25). Retrieved on 2007-02-08.
4. ^ Tauschek M, Gorrell R, Robins-Browne RM,. "Identification of a protein secretory pathway for the secretion of heat-labile enterotoxin by an enterotoxigenic strain of Escherichia coli". PNAS 99: 7066-7071. 
5. ^ Szalanski A, Owens C, McKay T, Steelman C (2004). "Detection of Campylobacter and Escherichia coli O157:H7 from filth flies by polymerase chain reaction". Med Vet Entomol 18 (3): 241-6. PMID 15347391. 
6. ^ Sela S, Nestel D, Pinto R, Nemny-Lavy E, Bar-Joseph M (2005). "Mediterranean fruit fly as a potential vector of bacterial pathogens". Appl Environ Microbiol 71 (7): 4052-6. PMID 16000820. 
7. ^ Alam M, Zurek L (2004). "Association of Escherichia coli O157:H7 with houseflies on a cattle farm". Appl Environ Microbiol 70 (12): 7578-80. PMID 15574966. 
8. ^ Christie, Tim. "Tests suggest E. coli spread through air", The Register-Guard, 2002-09-24. Retrieved on 2007-01-05. 
9. ^ Franiczek R, Dolna I, Krzyzanowska B, Szufnarowski K, Kowalska-Krochmal B, Zielińska M (2006). "[Conjugative transfer frequency of resistance genes from ESBL-producing Enterobacteriaceae strains isolated from patients hospitalized in pediatric wards]" (in Polish). Medycyna doświadczalna i mikrobiologia 58 (1): 41-51. PMID 16871972. 
10. ^ Chapman M, Robinson L, Pinkner J, Roth R, Heuser J, Hammar M, Normark S, Hultgren S (2002). "Role of Escherichia coli curli operons in directing amyloid fiber formation". Science 295 (5556): 851-5. PMID 11823641. 
11. ^ Johnson J, Kuskowski M, Menard M, Gajewski A, Xercavins M, Garau J (2006). "Similarity between human and chicken Escherichia coli isolates in relation to ciprofloxacin resistance status". J Infect Dis 194 (1): 71-8. PMID 16741884. 
12. ^ Adaptive Mutations in Bacteria: High Rate and Small Effects. Science Magazine (10 August 2007). Retrieved on 10 September 2007.
13. ^ Girard M, Steele D, Chaignat C, Kieny M (2006). "A review of vaccine research and development: human enteric infections". Vaccine 24 (15): 2732-50. PMID 16483695. 
14. ^ Ahmed A, Li J, Shiloach Y, Robbins J, Szu S (2006). "Safety and immunogenicity of Escherichia coli O157 O-specific polysaccharide conjugate vaccine in 2-5-year-old children". J Infect Dis 193 (4): 515-21. PMID 16425130. 
15. ^ Pearson H (2007). "The dark side of E. coli". Nature 445 (7123): 8-9. PMID 17203031. 
16. ^ New cattle vaccine controls E. coli infections. Canada AM (2007-01-11). Retrieved on 2007-02-08.
17. ^ Bioniche Life Sciences Inc. (2007-01-10). Canadian Research Collaboration Produces World's First Food Safety Vaccine: Against E. coli 0157:H7. Press release. Retrieved on 2007-02-08.
18. ^ HPA Press Statement: Infections caused by ESBL-producing E. coli.

External links



Major Model Organisms in Genetic Studies
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Entamoeba coli

Entamoeba coli is a non-pathogenic species of Entamoeba that frequently exists as a commensal parasite in the human gastrointestinal tract. Clinically, E.
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conservation status of a species is an indicator of the likelihood of that species continuing to survive either in the present day or the future. Many factors are taken into account when assessing the conservation status of a species: not simply the number remaining, but the
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Scientific classification or biological classification is a method by which biologists group and categorize species of organisms. Scientific classification also can be called scientific taxonomy, but should be distinguished from folk taxonomy, which lacks scientific basis.
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Stackebrandt et al., 1986


Alpha Proteobacteria
   Caulobacterales - e.g. Caulobacter
   Rhizobiales - e.g.
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Stackebrandt et al., 1986


Alpha Proteobacteria
   Caulobacterales - e.g. Caulobacter
   Rhizobiales - e.g.
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Family: Enterobacteriaceae
Rahn, 1937


See text.
The Enterobacteriaceae are a large family of bacteria, including many of the more familiar pathogens, such as Salmonella
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Family: Enterobacteriaceae
Rahn, 1937


See text.
The Enterobacteriaceae are a large family of bacteria, including many of the more familiar pathogens, such as Salmonella
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Castellani & Chalmers 1919


E. adecarboxylata
E. albertii
E. blattae
E. coli
E. fergusonii
E. hermannii
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binomial nomenclature is the formal system of naming species. The system is also called binominal nomenclature (particularly in zoological circles), binary nomenclature (particularly in botanical circles), or the binomial classification system.
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In anatomy, the intestine is the segment of the alimentary canal extending from the stomach to the anus and, in humans and other mammals, consists of two segments, the small intestine and the large intestine.
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Linnaeus, 1758

Subclasses & Infraclasses
  • Subclass †Allotheria*
  • Subclass Prototheria
  • Subclass Theria

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gut flora are the microorganisms that normally live in the digestive tract and can perform a number of useful functions for their hosts.

The average human body, consisting of about 1013 cells, has about ten times that number of microorganisms in the gut.
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Vitamin K denotes a group of lipophilic, and hydrophobic, vitamins that are needed for the posttranslational modification of certain proteins, mostly required for blood coagulation. Chemically they are 2-methyl-1,4-naphthoquinone derivatives.
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Theodor Escherich (29 November 1857 – 15 February 1911) was a German-Austrian pediatrician and a professor at universities in Munich, Graz, and Vienna. He discovered the bacterium Escherichia coli
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"Das Lied der Deutschen" (third stanza)
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Defecation is the act or process by which organisms eliminate solid or semisolid waste material (feces) from the digestive tract via the anus. Humans expel feces anywhere from a few times daily to a few times weekly; sloths can go a week without expelling.
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1,000,000,000 (alternately known as one thousand million and one billion, see below) is the natural number following 999,999,999 and preceding 1,000,000,001.

In scientific notation, it is written as 109.
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hot spring is a spring that is produced by the emergence of geothermally-heated groundwater from the earth's crust. There are hot springs all over the earth, on every continent and even under the oceans and seas.
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An endospore is a dormant, tough, and non-reproductive structure produced by a small number of bacteria from the Firmicute phylum. The primary function of most endospores is to ensure the survival of a bacterium through periods of environmental stress.
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Pasteurization (or pasteurisation) is the process of heating liquids for the purpose of destroying viruses and harmful organisms such as bacteria, protozoa, molds, and yeasts. The process was named after its inventor, French scientist Louis Pasteur.
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Sterilization (or sterilisation) refers to any process that effectively kills or eliminates transmissible agents (such as fungi, bacteria, viruses, prions and spore forms etc.) from a surface, equipment, foods, medications, or biological culture medium.
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In vivo (Latin: (with)in the living) means that which takes place inside an organism. In science, in vivo refers to experimentation done in or on the living tissue of a whole, living organism as opposed to a partial or dead one.
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The urinary system is the organ system that produces, stores, and eliminates urine. In humans it includes two kidneys, two ureters, the bladder, and the urethra. The analogous organ in invertebrates is the nephridium.
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Classification & external resources

Meninges of the central nervous system: dura mater, arachnoid, and pia mater.
ICD-10 G 00. -G 03.
ICD-9 320 - 322

DiseasesDB 22543
MedlinePlus 000680
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MeSH D010538
This article is concerned with peritonitis in human beings. For a specific cause of peritonitis in cats, see feline infectious peritonitis.

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Classification & external resources

ICD-9 611.0

DiseasesDB 7861
MedlinePlus 001490

Mastitis is the inflammation of the mammalian breast. It is called mastitis when it occurs to breastfeeding mothers and non-puerperal otherwise.
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MeSH D018805 Sepsis is a serious medical condition characterized by a whole-body inflammatory state caused by infection.

Traditionally the term sepsis has been used interchangeably with septicaemia and septicemia ("blood poisoning").
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