Eradicating deadly E. coli O157:H7 from the bottoms of cows may prevent future outbreaks of food poisoning

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Eradicating deadly E. coli O157:H7 from the bottoms of cows may prevent future outbreaks of food poisoning by this famous bug. According to an article in the August 2004 issue Microbiology Today, the quarterly magazine of the Society for General Microbiology, the majority of people with E. coli O157:H7, picked up the infection from cattle, either through direct contact with faeces or by consuming contaminated meat or milk.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh, in collaboration with the Scottish Agricultural College and the Moredun Research Institute, were surprised to find that E. coli O157:H7 colonises only the last few centimetres of the cattle gut. As a result, bacteria are spread onto the surface of faeces as they leave the cow and can easily contaminate the environment.

“We are focused on understanding where and how E. coli O157:H7 colonises cattle”, explains Dr David Gally from the University of Edinburgh. “Our aim is to produce vaccines that stop the bacteria from attaching themselves to the gut wall. This prevents colonisation and therefore reduces the threat to human health from this dangerous pathogen.”

In the laboratory E. coli has long been associated with advancing research in cell and molecular biology and this issue of Microbiology Today explores some of the many aspects of E. coli, from the friend to the foe. Thanks to genomics, scientists now understand why some strains of E. coli are harmless, whilst others are deadly. For example, E. coli O157:H7 was made infamous due to a fatal outbreak in Scotland in 1996, whilst other strains, such as E. coli K-12, the most well studied bacterium in science, have contributed enormously to our understanding of how cells work.

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