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Food poisoning by Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli


Associate Professor Thomas Emil Andersen & PhD Student Rune Micha Pedersen
Department of Clinical Microbiology, Odense University Hospital

Associate Professor Jakob Møller-Jensen
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, SDU

Project description

Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) is a natural inhabitant of many ruminants’ gut flora, where the bacterium lives in synergy with its host. Hiding inside the DNA of the bacterium, however, is a so-called prophage. The prophage is essentially a piece of DNA able to operate on its own

The prophage in STEC has the remarkable feature that it is able to - within one hour – take complete control over the bacterium and transform it into a bursting bag of highly potent toxin.

This event does not happen in the ruminant, but if humans eat the bacterium – as little as 100 bacteria – the process might be triggered, leading to bloody diarrhea, kidney failure and even death.

In this project we are digging into the fascinating disease pathogenesis of STEC hemolytic uremic syndrome (STEC-triggered kidney failure) – in an attempt to figure out why and how the prophage is triggered in the gut of humans, and how we might be able to better prevent and treat this disease.

We use flow-chamber assisted infection models where live human intestinal epithelial cells are infected with STEC.

The progression of infection is monitored with time-lapse microscopy, and individual pathogenesis events studied using flurescense reporter strains and analysis of gene transcription.

Funded by

  • The Lundbeck Foundation (Grant no. R164-2013-16181)
  • Region of Southern Denmark (Grant no. 13/7117)
  • Odense University Hospital Research Grant (Grant no. R22 A1224)
  • Fonden til Lægevidenskabens Fremme (Grant no. 16-285)

Intestinal epithelial cells (red) infected with toxin-active STEC (green)

Intestinal epithelial cells (red) infected with toxin-active STEC (green)

Contact person

Thomas Emil Andersen, Associate Professor at the Department of Clinical Research


Last Updated 12.03.2020