Tracing ancestors and relatives of Escherichia coli B, and the derivation of B strains REL606 and BL21(DE3)

J Mol Biol. 2009 Dec 11;394(4):634-43. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2009.09.022. Epub 2009 Sep 15.


Antecedents of Escherichia coli B have been traced through publications, inferences, and personal communication to a strain from the Institut Pasteur in Paris used by d'Herelle in his studies of bacteriophages as early as 1918 (a strain not in the current collection). This strain appears to have passed from d'Herelle to Bordet in 1920, and from Bordet to at least three other laboratories by 1925. The strain that Gratia received from Bordet was apparently passed to Bronfenbrenner by 1924 and from him to Luria around 1941. Delbrück and Luria published the first paper calling this strain B in 1942. Its choice as the common host for phages T1-T7 by the phage group that developed around Delbrück, Luria, and Hershey in the 1940s led to widespread use of B along with E. coli K-12, chosen about the same time for biochemical and genetic studies by Tatum and Lederberg. Not all currently available strains related to B are descended from the B of Delbrück and Luria; at least three strains with somewhat different characteristics were derived independently by Hershey directly from the Bronfenbrenner strain, and a strain that appears to have passed from Bordet to Wollman is in the current Collection of the Institut Pasteur. The succession of manipulations and strains that led from the B of Delbrück and Luria to REL606 and BL21(DE3) is given, established in part through evidence from their recently determined complete genome sequences.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriology / history*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / isolation & purification
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Molecular Biology / history*