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Int J Food Microbiol. 2005 May 25;101(2):227-36.

Persistence of Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella Newport, and Salmonella Poona in the gut of a free-living nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, and transmission to progeny and uninfected nematodes.

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Center for Food Safety and Department of Food Science and Technology, University of Georgia, 1109 Experiment Street, Griffin, GA 30223-1797, USA.


A study was undertaken to determine the persistence of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and salmonellae in the gut of a free-living nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, as affected by temperature and relative humidity and to determine if infected worms transmit Salmonella enterica serotype Newport to progeny and uninfected worms. Worms were fed cells of a non-pathogenic strain of E. coli (OP50), E. coli O157:H7, S. enterica serotype Newport, and S. enterica serotype Poona, followed by incubating at 4, 20, or 37 degrees C for up to 5 days. Initial populations of ingested pathogens significantly increased by up to 2.93 log(10) cfu/worm within 1 day at 20 degrees C on K agar and remained constant for an additional 4 days. When worms were placed on Bacto agar, populations of ingested pathogens remained constant at 4 degrees C, decreased significantly at 20 degrees C, and increased significantly at 37 degrees C within 3 days. Worms fed E. coli OP50 or S. Newport were incubated at 4 or 20 degrees C at relative humidities of 33%, 75%, or 98% to determine survival characteristics of ingested bacteria. Fewer cells of the pathogens survived incubation at 33% relative humidity compared to higher relative humidities. Populations of ingested E. coli OP50 and S. Newport decreased by up to 1.65 and 3.44 log(10) cfu/worm, respectively, in worms incubated at 20 degrees C and 33% relative humidity. Placement together on K agar of adult worms, labeled with green fluorescent protein (gfp) in the pharynx area, that had ingested gfp-labeled S. Newport and uninfected wild type worms resulted in transfer of the pathogen to gut of wild type worms. S. Newport was isolated from C. elegans two generations removed from exposure to the pathogen. Results of these studies show that C. elegans may serve as a temporary reservoir of foodborne pathogens, and could perhaps be a vector for contaminating preharvest fruits and vegetables, thus potentially increasing the risk of enteric infections associated with consumption of raw produce.

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