Lettuce and spinach are increasingly implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks due to contamination by Escherichia coli O157:H7. While this bacterium has been shown to colonize and survive on lettuce leaf surfaces, little is known about its interaction with the roots of growing lettuce plants. In these studies, a microarray analyses, mutant construction and confocal microscopy were used to gain an understanding of structure and function of bacterial genes involved in the colonization and growth of E. coli O157:H7 on lettuce roots. After three days of interaction with lettuce roots, 94 and 109 E. coli O157:H7 genes were significantly up- and down-regulated at least 1.5 fold, respectively. While genes involved in biofilm modulation (ycfR and ybiM) were significantly up-regulated, 40 of 109 (37%) of genes involved in protein synthesis were significantly repressed. E. coli O157:H7 was 2 logs less efficient in lettuce root colonization than was E. coli K12. We also unambiguously showed that a Δ. ycfR mutant of E. coli O157:H7 was unable to attach to or colonize lettuce roots. Taken together these results indicate that bacterial genes involved in attachment and biofilm formation are likely important for contamination of lettuce plants with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli strains.
- E. coli O157:H7
- Lettuce root attachment