Microbiology Today August 2004

Most people associate the gut bacterium Escherichia coli with disease or even death; however, in the laboratory E. coli has long been associated with advancing research in cell and molecular biology. Thanks to genomics, scientists now understand why some strains of E. coli are harmless whilst others are highly pathogenic. 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. This issue of Microbiology Today explores some of the many aspects of E. coli, from the beneficial to the deadly.

Escherichia coli: model and menace
Microbiology Today Editor and E. coli expert Gavin Thomas explores the various aspects of his favourite bacterium, from dodgy burgers and diarrhoea to E. coli as a model organism in the advance of molecular and cell biology.

E. coli K-12
E. coli K-12 has been described as one of the most studied bacteria in science. Nobel prize winner for his pioneering work on bacterial genetics, Joshua Lederberg explains the fascinating history of this E. coli strain.

E. coli as a cause of outbreaks of diarrhoeal disease in the UK
Certain strains of the E. coli are responsible for many cases of gastrointestinal infection and other more significant diseases in the UK. Henry Smith and his colleagues at the Health Protection Agency have led detailed investigations into the recent pattern of such outbreaks and consider what action must be taken for our future protection.

E. coli as a probiotic
Today the use of probiotic microbes to improve health is becoming an increasing popular concept, especially in the marketing of yoghurt drinks and similar products found on our supermarket shelves. Bob Rastall and Glen Gibson describe how E. coli may also prove to be another probiotic candidate.

The use of E. coli as a tool in applied and environmental investigations
Much of the publicity surrounding E. coli is concerned with death and disease. However, Keith Jones and Richard Smith from the University of Lancaster describe how E. coli has proved useful to environmentalists in the detection and sourcing of faecal pollution in our seas, lakes and rivers.

Comparative genomics of E. coli
E. coli was first tamed into the Petri dish in the 1920s and ever since has been the favourite microbe for geneticists and molecular biologists who, with its help, have discovered and expanded fundamental genetic and biochemical processes. As more sequences of the various strains of E. coli are completed, researchers are finding surprising variability, as Jeremy Glasner and Nicole Perna from University of Wisconsin, Madison, describe.

EHEC O157:H7 - getting to the bottom of the burger bug
David Gally and his colleagues from the University of Edinburgh have been trying to find out why the human pathogen EHEC O157:H7 doesn't affect its cattle host. Their studies have revealed the surprising discovery that EHEC O157:H7 only colonizes the last few centimetres of the cattle gut. This finding is currently being employed into the production of a vaccine that will work to prevent attachment of the bacteria to the gut wall, thus reducing the risk of human infection.

Alexander Fleming is interviewed for the 1934 RAE
This article is a long-lost transcript of the meeting between Alexander Fleming and his boss Almroth Wright about the forthcoming 1934 RAE to be submitted by the Inoculation Department at St Mary's Hospital, London.

Comment - Codes of practice in research
Some UK government bodies have recently issued a code of practice for research carried out by their fund-holders. Superficially this seems a good move, but as Tony Minson describes, the policy also heralds some pitfalls for microbiologists.

Schoolzone clears up the issues surrounding use of E. coli in school practicals and they recent safety concerns.

Hot off the Press highlights some new developments in microbiological research published in the Society's journals - Microbiology, Journal of General Virology, International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology and Journal of Medical Microbiology. Topics covered include:

  • Ancient yeast genes
  • Underdiagnosis of UTIs
  • Virologists look to Merlin for help
  • Communication blackout?
  • Phytoplasma taxonomy
  • Working safely with SARS
  • Wound botulism in the UK and Ireland
  • An arsenic-resistant Bacillus sp.

Other items include:

Last updated 25 October 2004