Genomic anatomy of Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreaks

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Dec 13;108(50):20142-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1107176108. Epub 2011 Nov 30.


The rapid emergence of Escherichia coli O157:H7 from an unknown strain in 1982 to the dominant hemorrhagic E. coli serotype in the United States and the cause of widespread outbreaks of human food-borne illness highlights a need to evaluate critically the extent to which genomic plasticity of this important enteric pathogen contributes to its pathogenic potential and its evolution as well as its adaptation in different ecological niches. Aimed at a better understanding of the evolution of the E. coli O157:H7 pathogenome, the present study presents the high-quality sequencing and comparative phylogenomic analysis of a comprehensive panel of 25 E. coli O157:H7 strains associated with three nearly simultaneous food-borne outbreaks of human disease in the United States. Here we present a population genetic analysis of more than 200 related strains recovered from patients, contaminated produce, and zoonotic sources. High-resolution phylogenomic approaches allow the dynamics of pathogenome evolution to be followed at a high level of phylogenetic accuracy and resolution. SNP discovery and study of genome architecture and prophage content identified numerous biomarkers to assess the extent of genetic diversity within a set of clinical and environmental strains. A total of 1,225 SNPs were identified in the present study and are now available for typing of the E. coli O157:H7 lineage. These data should prove useful for the development of a refined phylogenomic framework for forensic, diagnostic, and epidemiological studies to define better risk in response to novel and emerging E. coli O157:H7 resistance and virulence phenotypes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Escherichia coli Infections / epidemiology*
  • Escherichia coli Infections / microbiology*
  • Escherichia coli O157 / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli O157 / virology
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Loci / genetics
  • Genome, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Genomic Islands / genetics
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics
  • Prophages / metabolism
  • Shiga Toxin / metabolism


  • Shiga Toxin