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Water Res. 2007 Feb;41(4):803-9. Epub 2007 Jan 17.

Phenotypic characterization of Escherichia coli through whole-cell fatty acid profiling to investigate host specificity.

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  • 1Villanova University, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, Villanova, PA 19085, USA.


The objective of the study was to investigate whole-cell fatty acid methyl ester (FAME) profiles of 605 Escherichia coli isolates to determine their host specificity. The isolates were cultured from six possible sources of fecal pollution; 180 isolates from sewage, 85 from dairy cow, 98 from chicken, 76 from swine, 94 from deer, and 72 from waterfowl, mostly geese and ducks. The FAME profiles were presented as the relative masses of 12 FAMEs identified in the isolates and it was found that none of the six hosts carried a "signature" FAME, a FAME that is uniquely associated with a particular host category. However, two-sample t-test analyses indicated that the mean relative masses of seven FAMEs out of the 12 identified showed statistically significant differences (95% confidence interval) between isolates of human and non-human origins. In addition, a linear discriminant function based on mean relative mass variations in individual FAMEs classified the known-source isolates into their respective host categories with a 47.6% average rate of correct classification (ARCC) in a six-way discriminant analysis. The ARCC increased to 61.3% when the individual hosts were pooled into larger categories of human, livestock, and wildlife. The accuracy was 75.5% when isolates of human origin were discriminated against those of non-human origins. Random cluster formation analysis indicated that the library size was sufficient to prevent random grouping among the isolates.

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