In 1885, Theodor Escherich first described the Bacillus coli commune, which was subsequently renamed Escherichia coli. We report the complete genome sequence of this original strain (NCTC 86). The 5 144 392 bp circular chromosome encodes the genes for 4805 proteins, which include antigens, virulence factors, antimicrobial-resistance factors and secretion systems, of a commensal organism from the pre-antibiotic era. It is located in the E. coli A subgroup and is closely related to E. coli K-12 MG1655. E. coli strain NCTC 86 and the non-pathogenic K-12, C, B and HS strains share a common backbone that is largely co-linear. The exception is a large 2 803 932 bp inversion that spans the replication terminus from gmhB to clpB. Comparison with E. coli K-12 reveals 41 regions of difference (577 351 bp) distributed across the chromosome. For example, and contrary to current dogma, E. coli NCTC 86 includes a nine gene sil locus that encodes a silver-resistance efflux pump acquired before the current widespread use of silver nanoparticles as an antibacterial agent, possibly resulting from the widespread use of silver utensils and currency in Germany in the 1800s. In summary, phylogenetic comparisons with other E. coli strains confirmed that the original strain isolated by Escherich is most closely related to the non-pathogenic commensal strains. It is more distant from the root than the pathogenic organisms E. coli 042 and O157 : H7; therefore, it is not an ancestral state for the species.
Keywords: Escherichia coli; Theodor Escherich; genome sequence.