Large scale analysis of virulence genes in Escherichia coli strains isolated from Avalon Bay, CA

Matthew J. Hamilton, Asbah Z. Hadi, John F. Griffith, Satoshi Ishii, Michael J. Sadowsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Contamination of recreational waters with Escherichia coli and Enterococcus sp. is a widespread problem resulting in beach closures and loss of recreational activity. While E. coli is frequently used as an indicator of fecal contamination, and has been extensively measured in waterways, few studies have examined the presence of potentially pathogenic E. coli strains in beach waters. In this study, a combination of high-throughput, robot-assisted colony hybridization and PCR-based analyses were used to determine the genomic composition and frequency of virulence genes present in E. coli isolated from beach water in Avalon Bay, Santa Catalina Island, CA. A total of 24,493 E. coli isolates were collected from two sites at a popular swimming beach between August through September 2007 and from July through August 2008. All isolates were examined for the presence of shiga-like toxins (stx1/. stx2), intimin (eaeA), and enterotoxins (ST/LT). Of the 24,493 isolates examined, 3.6% contained the eaeA gene, indicating that these isolates were potential EPEC strains. On five dates, however, greater than 10% of the strains were potential EPEC, suggesting that incidence of virulence genes at this beach has a strong temporal component. No STEC or ETEC isolates were detected, and only eight (<1.0%) of the potential EPEC isolates were found to carry the EAF plasmid. The potential EPEC isolates mainly belonged to E. coli phylogenetic groups B1 or B2, and carried the β intimin subtype. DNA fingerprint analyses of the potential EPEC strains indicated that the isolates belonged to several genetically diverse groups, although clonal isolates were frequently detected. While the presence of virulence genes alone cannot be used to determine the pathogenicity of strains, results from this study show that potential EPEC strains can be found in marine beach water and their presence needs to be considered as one of the factors used in decisions concerning beach closures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5463-5473
Number of pages11
JournalWater Research
Issue number18
StatePublished - Oct 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded, in part, by a grant from the Minnesota Agricultural Research Station (to MJS), and by training grant 2T32-GM008347 from the National Institutes of Health (to MJH).


  • Bacteria
  • Beach water
  • DNA fingerprinting
  • E. coli
  • Phylogenetic groups
  • Virulence genes


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