Taming E. coli
Scientists at the Michigan State University (MSU) have uncovered the unique properties of the deadly strain of E. coli that was responsible for the recent outbreak in Germany. This is a key step toward the goal of potentially conquering the killer bacteria.
The German epidemic was the most lethal ever, causing 54 deaths and sickening over than 3,800 people. The scourge was traced to an especially virulent strain of E. coli that researchers had never seen before. It shares some characteristics with other forms of the bacteria, but it has a unique makeup. Shannon Manning, a molecular biologist and epidemiologist at MSU and colleagues pinpointed the strain's ability to create toxins after it forms a biofilm, or microbial community. The team published their findings in the journal PLoS ONE.
A university press released quotes Manning as saying, “What made the German outbreak so different is that many victims suffering from kidney failure were adults. Rather than attacking adults, other types of E. coli that produce Shiga toxins typically damage kidneys of children under 10.”
Not only that, but the incubation period was considerably longer for people infected with the German strain. Manning suggests this is because this strain needs extra time to form a biofilm. Biofilms are not important for other infections. “Our research demonstrates that biofilm formation is critical for toxin production and kidney damage,” she says. “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.”