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Interaction of a Free-Living Soil Nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, with Surrogates of Foodborne Pathogenic Bacteria

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Free-living nematodes may harbor, protect, and disperse bacteria, including those ingested and passed in viable form in feces. These nematodes are potential vectors for human pathogens and may play a role in foodborne diseases associated with fruits and vegetables eaten raw. In this study, we evaluated the associations between a free-living soil nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, and Escherichia coli, an avirulent strain of Salmonella Typhimurium, Listeria welshimeri, and Bacillus cereus. On an agar medium, young adult worms quickly moved toward colonies of all four bacteria; over 90% of 3-day-old adult worms entered colonies within 16 min after inoculation. After 48 h, worms moved in and out of colonies of L. welshimeri and B. cereus but remained associated with E. coli and Salmonella Typhimurium colonies for at least 96 h. Young adult worms fed on cells of the four bacteria suspended in K medium. Worms survived and reproduced with the use of nutrients derived from all test bacteria, as determined for eggs laid by second-generation worms after culturing for 96 h. Development was slightly slower for worms fed gram-positive bacteria than for worms fed gram-negative bacteria. Worms that fed for 24 h on bacterial lawns formed on tryptic soy agar dispersed bacteria over a 3-h period when they were transferred to a bacteria-free agar surface. The results of this study suggest that C. elegans and perhaps other free-living nematodes are potential vectors for both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, including foodborne pathogens in soil.


Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Environmental Health Science, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602-2102, USA 2: Center for Food Safety and Department of Food Science and Technology, University of Georgia, 1109 Experiment Street, Griffin, Georgia 30223-1797, USA

Publication date: September 1, 2003

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