Evaluating the pathogenic potential of environmental Escherichia coli by using the caenorhabditis elegans infection model.

Merkx-Jacques, A., Coors, A., Brousseau, R., Masson, L., Mazza, A., Tien, Y.C., and Topp, E. (2013). "Evaluating the pathogenic potential of environmental Escherichia coli by using the caenorhabditis elegans infection model.", Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 79(7), pp. 2435-2445. doi : 10.1128/aem.03501-12  Access to full text

Abstract

The detection and abundance of Escherichia coli in water is used to monitor and mandate the quality of drinking and recreational water. Distinguishing commensal waterborne E. coli isolates from those that cause diarrhea or extraintestinal disease in humans is important for quantifying human health risk. A DNA microarray was used to evaluate the distribution of virulence genes in 148 E. coli environmental isolates from a watershed in eastern Ontario, Canada, and in eight clinical isolates. Their pathogenic potential was evaluated with Caenorhabditis elegans, and the concordance between the bioassay result and the pathotype deduced by genotyping was explored. Isolates identified as potentially pathogenic on the basis of their complement of virulence genes were significantly more likely to be pathogenic to C. elegans than those determined to be potentially nonpathogenic. A number of isolates that were identified as nonpathogenic on the basis of genotyping were pathogenic in the infection assay, suggesting that genotyping did not capture all potentially pathogenic types. The detection of the adhesin-encoding genes sfaD, focA, and focG, which encode adhesins; of roN2, which encodes a siderophore receptor; of pic, which encodes an autotransporter protein; and of b1432, which encodes a putative transposase, was significantly associated with pathogenicity in the infection assay. Overall, E. coli isolates predicted to be pathogenic on the basis of genotyping were indeed so in the C. elegans infection assay. Furthermore, the detection of C. elegans-infective environmental isolates predicted to be nonpathogenic on the basis of genotyping suggests that there are hitherto-unrecognized virulence factors or combinations thereof that are important in the establishment of infection.

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