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Free Content Morphological changes to Escherichia coli O157 : H7, commensal E. coli and Salmonella spp in response to marginal growth conditions, with special reference to mildly stressing temperatures

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Certain rod-shaped bacteria have been reported to form elongated filamentous cells when exposed to marginal growth conditions, including refrigeration temperatures. To expand upon these observations, the filamentation of commensal Escherichia coli, E. coli O157 : H7 and Salmonella spp was investigated, following exposure to certain, mildly stressing, levels of temperature, pH or water activity (a w), with levels of cellular protein being monitored during cell elongation, in some experiments. Our studies indicated that cellular filamentation could be demonstrated in all 15 strains of the above organisms tested, following exposure to marginal conditions achieved by incubation at high or low temperatures, high or low pH values and low a w. The level of environmental stress causing filamentation tended to be specific to the particular organisms. For example, Salmonella spp formed filamentous cells at 44°C, whereas E. coli strains, including O157, grew by binary fission at that temperature, but formed filamentous cells at 46°C. In addition, plate count techniques to enumerate bacteria during filamentation, failed to reflect the increase in cell biomass that was occurring, whereas measurements of protein concentration demonstrated the increase quite strikingly. These findings have important implications for our understanding of the ability of food-borne pathogens to cause disease, since the infectious dose of a microorganism implicated in an outbreak of such disease is typically determined by a viable count method, which could underestimate the number of potential infectious units present in a food that had been stored in such a way as to provide marginal growth conditions.
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Keywords: Escherichia coli; Salmonella; cell elongation; mildly stressing temperatures

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Science Review, PO Box 314, St. Albans, Herts AL1 4ZG, UK

Publication date: 2003-02-15

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