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Survival of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in various soil particles: importance of the attached bacterial phenotype

Abstract

The risk of enteropathogens to food and water is highly dependent on their survival in soil environments. Here, the effects of soil type, particle size, the presence of natural organic matter (NOM) or Fe/Al (hydro)oxides on pathogenic Escherichia coli O157:H7 survival in sterilized soil particles were assessed through survival, attachment, metabolic activity, and qRT-PCR analyses. The abundance of inoculated E. coli O157:H7 in Brown soil (Alfisol) particles increased 0.6–1.4 log10 CFU/g within 3 days (except for NOM-stripped clay), while that in Red soil (Ultisol) particles decreased rapidly in 8 days post-inoculation. Additionally, survival of bacteria was significantly enhanced when Fe/Al (hydro)oxides had been removed from Red soil particles. For the two soils, E. coli O157:H7 survived the longest in NOM-present clays and the bacterial adenosine 5′-triphosphate (ATP) levels were 0.7–2.0 times greater in clays than in sands and silts on day 8. Moreover, clays were more effective than silts and sands in binding cells and changing the expressions of acetate pathway-associated genes (pta and ackA). For silts and sands, E. coli O157:H7 decayed more rapidly in the presence of NOM and similar trends of bacterial ATP levels were observed between NOM-stripped and NOM-present soil particles, indicating that the primary role of NOM was not as a nutrient supply. These findings indicate that soil particles function mainly through attachment to change the metabolic pathway of E. coli O157:H7 and ultimately impact the survival of bacterial pathogens in soils.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the National Key Research Program of China (2016YFD0800206), National Natural Science Foundation of China (41522106), and the National Basic Research Program of China (2015CB150504). In addition, we also thank Editor-in-Chief and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions that improved an earlier version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Peng Cai.

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Liu, X., Gao, C., Ji, D. et al. Survival of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in various soil particles: importance of the attached bacterial phenotype. Biol Fertil Soils 53, 209–219 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00374-016-1172-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00374-016-1172-y

Keywords

  • Escherichia coli O157:H7
  • Survival
  • Attachment
  • ATP
  • Gene expression
  • Fe/Al (hydro)oxides