E.coli Is Pretty Damn Cute.

29 Feb

Not many people would consider Escherichia coli to be cute. Or any other bacteria, really.
But this little Gram-negative darling deserves some respect and appreciation. There are many strains, ranging from peacefully non-pathogenic to potentially fatal food poisoning, with an impressive range of genetic and phenotypic diversity. And don’t forget the menacing H0157:H7, a sneaky little punk who stole the notorious shiga toxin from Shigella.

E.coli 0157:H7 would totally have a mohawk.

Science owes a lot to E.coli.  It was one of the first organisms to have its genome sequenced. Since the initial sequencing in 1997, there have been 60 completely sequenced strains. So diverse is this organism that these 60 sequenced strains only share 20% of their DNA. The other 80% of each strain is wildly different!
In the 1940’s, Joshua Lederberg and Edward Tatum used E.coli to describe the phenomenon bacterial conjugation, where bacteria exchange and transfer genetic material via direct contact, much like a flash drive can transfer info between computers. In 1988, a long-term experiment involving 12 identical cultures of E.coli was set up.
In 2010, the cultures reached 50,000 generations, and display a wide variety of diversity, including one culture which can now utilize citrate. Citrate utilization is a common test used to differentiate Salmonella (positive) from E.coli (negative) in medical microbiology labs. While there has yet to be a known case of wild E.coli utilizing citrate, we now know that they can evolve to adapt that characteristic on their own.
You may have heard of Mutaflor, a probiotic used to treat gastrointestional disorders. That’s actually a specialized strain of E.coli! (I like to pretend that it wears those old-fashioned nurse uniforms).

E.coli has taught us so much about microbiology, genetics, and evolution. And if that isn’t adorable enough, E.coli is peritrichous, meaning that it has beautiful flagella everywhere!

Seriously, flagella everywhere! They probably give the best hugs! The flagella are like itty bitty rotary-powered protein tentacles. It’s basically the bacterial version of Cthulhu. Good thing they never bothered to evolve wings. (Yet.)

(First image from shardcore.com. They have wonderful art.)

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