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ISME J. 2007 Jul;1(3):204-14. Epub 2007 May 31.

Survival of genetically marked Escherichia coli O157:H7 in soil as affected by soil microbial community shifts.

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Department of Microbial Ecology, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of Groningen, Haren, The Netherlands.


A loamy sand soil sampled from a species-rich permanent grassland at a long-term experimental site (Wildekamp, Bennekom, The Netherlands) was used to construct soil microcosms in which the microbial community compositions had been modified by fumigation at different intensities (depths). As expected, increasing depth of fumigation was shown to result in progressively increasing effects on the microbiological soil parameters, as determined by cultivation-based as well as cultivation-independent (PCR-DGGE, PLFA) methods. Both at 7 and at 60 days after fumigation, shifts in the bacterial, fungal and protozoan communities were noted, indicating that altered community compositions had emerged following a transition phase. At the level of bacteria culturable on plates, an increase of the prevalence of bacterial r-strategists was noted at 7 days followed by a decline at 60 days, which also hinted at the effectiveness of the fumigation treatments. The survival of a non-toxigenic Escherichia coli O157:H7 derivative, strain T, was then assessed over 60 days in these microcosms, using detection via colony forming units counts as well as via PCR-DGGE. Both data sets were consistent with each other. Thus, a clear effect of fumigation depth on the survival of the invading strain T was noted, as a progressive increase of depth coincided with a progressively enhanced inoculant survival rate. As fumigation depth was presumably inversely related to community complexity, this was consistent with the hypothesis that soil systems with reduced biological complexity offer enhanced opportunities for invading microbial species to establish and persist. The significance of this finding is discussed in the light of the ongoing discussion about the complexity-invasiveness relationship within microbial communities, in particular regarding the opportunities of pathogens to persist.

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