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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2013 Apr;79(8):2552-9. doi: 10.1128/AEM.03461-12. Epub 2013 Feb 8.

Linking microbial community structure to function in representative simulated systems.

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Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Riverside, Riverside, California, USA.


Pathogenic bacteria are generally studied as a single strain under ideal growing conditions, although these conditions are not the norm in the environments in which pathogens typically proliferate. In this investigation, a representative microbial community along with Escherichia coli O157:H7, a model pathogen, was studied in three environments in which such a pathogen could be found: a human colon, a septic tank, and groundwater. Each of these systems was built in the lab in order to retain the physical/chemical and microbial complexity of the environments while maintaining control of the feed into the models. The microbial community in the colon was found to have a high percentage of bacteriodetes and firmicutes, while the septic tank and groundwater systems were composed mostly of proteobacteria. The introduction of E. coli O157:H7 into the simulated systems elicited a shift in the structures and phenotypic cell characteristics of the microbial communities. The fate and transport of the microbial community with E. coli O157:H7 were found to be significantly different from those of E. coli O157:H7 studied as a single isolate, suggesting that the behavior of the organism in the environment was different from that previously conceived. The findings in this study clearly suggest that to gain insight into the fate of pathogens, cells should be grown and analyzed under conditions simulating those of the environment in which the pathogens are present.

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