Research – Harmless or deadly? New study examines evolution of E. coli

UTS

A new study, published in Nature Communications, suggests genetic material from E. coli bacteria in farm animals could be contributing to the evolution of deadly strains of E. coli in humans.

Genetic material from E. coli bacteria in farm animals could be contributing to the evolution of deadly pandemic strains of E. coli in humans, new research shows.

E. coli usually live as harmless bacteria in the gastrointestinal tracts of birds and mammals, including humans. They also reside, independent of a host, in environments such as water and soil, and in food products including chicken and turkey meat, raw milk, beef, pork and mixed salad.

These bacteria can cause disease if they possess or acquire factors that allow them survive in areas of the human body outside the gut.

E. coli is the primary source of urinary tract infections, a common reason for hospital admissions. It can also lead to sepsis, which kills 11 million people globally each year, and meningitis, an infection that affects the brain and spinal cord.

Dr Cameron Reid, from the University of Technology Sydney, said the aim of the study, recently published in Nature Communications, was to better understand the evolution and genomic characteristics of an emerging strain of E. coli known as ST58.

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