Alteration of flagellar phenotype of Escherichia coli strain P12b, the standard type strain for flagellar antigen H17, possessing a new non-fliC flagellin gene flnA, and possible loss of original flagellar phenotype and genotype in the course of subculturing through semisolid media

Arch Microbiol. 2010 Apr;192(4):267-78. doi: 10.1007/s00203-010-0556-x. Epub 2010 Feb 20.


A practically important phenomenon, resulting in the loss of the original flagellar phenotype (genotype) of bacteria, is described in the Escherichia coli H17 type strain P12b possessing two distinct genes for H17 and H4 flagellins, respectively. By PCR, sequencing, and phylogenetic investigation, the H17 gene (originally expressed) was considered a new non-fliC flagellin gene and assigned flnA, while the H4 gene (originally cryptic) was reaffirmed as fliC. H17 and H4 flagella differed morphologically. The phenomenon consisted in the replacement of H17 cells by H4 cells during subculturing through certain semisolid media and resulted from the excision of flnA (H17) entirely or in part. The substitution rate depended on the density and nutrient composition of media and reached 100% even after a single passage through 0.3% LB agar. Such phenomenon can lead to an unexpected loss of original H17 phenotype. Our review of the literature showed that the loss of the original flagellar genotype (phenotype) of P12b has occurred in some laboratories while the authors continued to consider their cultures H17. We showed how to distinguish these alternative flagellin genotypes using popular fliC primers. Attention was also paid to possible discrepancies between serological and molecular results in flagellar typing of E. coli.

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Bacterial Typing Techniques
  • Culture Media
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / classification
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics*
  • Flagella / ultrastructure*
  • Flagellin / genetics*
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Genotype
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Phenotype
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Culture Media
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • FliC protein, E coli
  • FllA protein, E coli
  • Flagellin