Biologists decode deadly E. coli strain

Jul 26, 2012

The secret to the deadly 2011 E. coli outbreak in Germany has been decoded, thanks to research conducted at Michigan State University.

The deadliest E. coli outbreak ever, which caused 54 deaths and sickened more than 3,800 people, was traced to a particularly that researchers had never seen in an outbreak before. In the current issue of the academic journal PLoS ONE, a team of researchers led by Shannon Manning, MSU and , suggests a way to potentially tame the killer bacteria.

The strain, E. coli O104:H4, shares some characteristics as other deadly E. coli bacteria, but its combination is novel. Researchers haven't determined the mechanism it uses to cause disease, although Manning and her team were able to find the strain's Achilles heel ­– its biofilm.

By focusing on the bacteria's biofilm, the grouping of many E. coli bacteria that stick to a cell's surface and grow encased in a self-produced protective coat, Manning and colleagues were able to determine why it was so deadly. When the bacterium found in forms a biofilm, it begins to make more toxic genes like the Shiga toxin.

Increased production of the Shiga toxin is the probable culprit that contributed to so many incidents of kidney damage and death during the 2011 outbreak, Manning said.

"What made the German outbreak so different is that many victims suffering from kidney failure were adults," she said. "Rather than attacking adults, other types of E. coli that produce Shiga toxins typically damage kidneys of children under 10."

In addition, the incubation period was considerably longer among individuals infected with the German strain compared to individuals infected with E. coli O157, a similar bacterium that can also cause illness and . Manning believes this is because the German strain needs a longer period of time to form a biofilm, whereas biofilms are not important for O157 infections.

"Our research demonstrates that biofilm formation is critical for toxin production and kidney damage," she said. "If we can block the bacteria from forming a stable biofilm, then it is likely that we can prevent future E. coli O104:H4 infections."

The next phase of Manning's research is already focusing on creating mutant in an effort to prevent the bacterium from forming a biofilm. This would prevent the disease completely since the conditions would not be favorable for bacterial growth.

Explore further: Heaven scent: Finding may help restore fragrance to roses

Related Stories

French woman dies of E. coli

Jul 02, 2011

(AP) -- A 78-year-old French woman died early Saturday morning from complications of E. coli infection but a doctor said she was not suffering from the strain that has infected many other people in France and Germany.

Viruses can turn harmless E. coli dangerous

Apr 16, 2009

For her doctorate, Camilla Sekse studied how viral DNA can be transmitted from pathogenic to non-pathogenic E. coli. Viruses that infect bacteria in this way are called bacteriophages. Her findings reveal ...

Crowd-sourcing the E. coli O104:H4 outbreak

Sep 05, 2011

Ten variants of the deadly Escherichia coli strain that hit Germany in May 2011 have been sequenced across the world. The unprecedented level of collaboration across the scientific community should give i ...

Recommended for you

Study on pesticides in lab rat feed causes a stir

Jul 02, 2015

French scientists published evidence Thursday of pesticide contamination of lab rat feed which they said discredited historic toxicity studies, though commentators questioned the analysis.

International consortium to study plant fertility evolution

Jul 02, 2015

Mark Johnson, associate professor of biology, has joined a consortium of seven other researchers in four European countries to develop the fullest understanding yet of how fertilization evolved in flowering plants. The research, ...

Making the biofuels process safer for microbes

Jul 02, 2015

A team of investigators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Michigan State University have created a process for making the work environment less toxic—literally—for the organisms that do the heavy ...

Why GM food is so hard to sell to a wary public

Jul 02, 2015

Whether commanding the attention of rock star Neil Young or apparently being supported by the former head of Greenpeace, genetically modified food is almost always in the news – and often in a negative ...

The hidden treasure in RNA-seq

Jul 01, 2015

Michael Stadler and his team at the Friedrich Miescher institute for Biomedical Research (FMI) have developed a novel computational approach to analyze RNA-seq data. By comparing intronic and exonic RNA reads, ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.