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PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e44186. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0044186. Epub 2012 Sep 5.

Functional metagenomics of Escherichia coli O157:H7 interactions with spinach indigenous microorganisms during biofilm formation.

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Produce Safety and Microbiology Research Unit, Western Regional Research Center, Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, Albany, California, United States of America.


The increase in foodborne outbreaks worldwide attributed to fresh fruit and vegetables suggests that produce may serve as an ecological niche for enteric pathogens. Here we examined the interaction of E. coli O157:H7 (EcO157) with spinach leaf indigenous microorganisms during co-colonization and establishment of a mixed biofilm on a stainless steel surface. Stainless steel surface was selected to mimic the surface of produce-processing equipment, where retention of foodborne pathogens such as EcO157 could serve as a potential source for transmission. We observed a positive effect of spinach-associated microbes on the initial attachment of EcO157, but an antagonistic effect on the EcO157 population at the later stage of biofilm formation. Metagenomic analyses of the biofilm community with the GeoChip revealed an extremely diverse community (gene richness, 23409; Shannon-Weiner index H, 9.55). Presence of EcO157 in the mixed biofilm resulted in a significant decrease in the community α-diversity (t test, P<0.05), indicating a putative competition between the pathogen and indigenous spinach microbes. The decrease in the β-diversity of the EcO157-inoculated biofilm at 48 h (ANOVA, P<0.05) suggested a convergent shift in functional composition in response to EcO157 invasion. The success of EcO157 in the mixed biofilm is likely associated with its metabolic potential in utilizing spinach nutrients: the generation time of EcO157 in spinach lysates at 28°C is ~ 38 min, which is comparable to that in rich broth. The significant decrease in the abundance of many genes involved in carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycling in the EcO157-inoculated biofilms (t test, P<0.05) further support our conclusion that competition for essential macronutrients is likely the primary interaction between the EcO157 and indigenous spinach-biofilm species.

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