Strategy To Prevent Deadly E.Coli In Cattle

US - Scientists at the University of Idaho claim to have learned how the deadly E. coli bacteria sense the cattle gastrointestinal tract.
calendar icon 2 June 2010
clock icon 2 minute read

The research focused on E coli O157:H7, a serotype of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli, which can cause fatal illness when transmitted to people through produce or undercooked meat.

An estimated 70 to 80 per cent of healthy cattle herds in the United States at least sometimes carry the deadly E. coli with no ill effects, passing it to each other through their environment or by direct contact with each other.

E. coli from the farm environment, presumably in feed or water, is ingested by cattle and passes through the rumen, the first and largest compartment in their four-part stomach along the GI tract until it reaches the rectoanal junction mucosa where it attaches and colonises.

To be successful, E. coli must express or turn on different genes in different conditions such as outside of the animal, in the rumen, or at the end of the GI tract. This publication shows, for the first time, how E. coli O157:H7 uses chemical signaling to sense its environment and turn on different genes when it is in cattle, said Carolyn Hovde Bohach, a scientist from the University of Idaho.

Through a process known as quorum sensing, the bacterium senses and responds to chemicals known as AHLs or acyl-homserine lactones. The presence of AHL activates genes that help E coli colonize cattles' GI tract.

Disrupting that signal may prevent the deadly E. coli from taking up residence in cattle. Human health researchers are studying whether disrupting quorum sensing in another bacterium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, can prevent fatal infections in cystic fibrosis patients.

The main threat for people occurs from cattle shedding the bacteria in feces, which can then contaminate meat or produce.

The cattle work was conducted on the University of Idaho campus, where Ms Hovde Bohach's laboratory has developed expertise in working with the bacteria in its natural silent reservoir, cattle.

There may be several strategies to stop E. coli from living in cattle, she said, adding, "We might try to limit production of AHLs or find a feed additive that would block bacterial reception of the AHL signal."

Her research includes a focus on the influence of cattle diet on shedding the bacteria and where the bacteria are found within cattle.

Vanessa Sperandio and David T. Hughes of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center reported the team's findings in the Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences. Other authors included Linda Liou of Ms Hovde Bohach's lab at the University of Idaho, Jason W. Sahl and David A. Rasko of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Arati V. Patankar and Juan E. Gonzalez of the University of Texas at Dallas; Thomas S. Edrington of the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

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