E. coli is an abbreviated form of the name Escherichia Coli. It is a naturally occurring bacterium that dwells inside a human’s large intestine. In exchange for the nutrients it gets, E. coli secretes Vitamins K and B-complex. Although an important dweller of our alimentary canal E. Coli only makes up 0.1% of the bacteria that lines an adult intestine. The relation between the human and the E. Coli bacterium is a symbiotic one. Humans provide the E. Coli with nutrients and, in turn they secrete necessary vitamins. The mutant form of E. Coli, E. Coli 0157:H7 is the strain that has given its nicer brothers a bad name. The most controversy seems to be surrounding uncooked beef, which became a nationwide problem with the “Jack in the Box” outbreak 1993. The mutant form, even though it is better known, is much rarer than normal E. coli.

The good form of E. coli could have transferred DNA with a virus or other sources (transduction possibly). This source possibly altered its make up and made the good E.coli into the mutant form. The mutant form is lethal for it secretes a toxin called Shiga-like toxin (SLT). A a result of the mutant E. coli releasing SLT, damage to the epithial cells of the intestine occurs. Due to injuries there is a loss of water and salts, bleeding, and hemorrhaging. This hemorrhaging can be lethal to small children.

The mutant E. coli (which will from here in be labeled as E. coli for reasons of convenience) can be transferred anytime a person comes in contact, more specifically ingests, any product that has been near animals. Most of the public is more concerned with getting it from undercooked hamburgers, but as in many cases it can even be transferred through beverages. Unless there is a cut in the meat below the surface it is usually sterile. If a knife cuts through the meat it can carry the E. coli down with it. Although it is rare infection can occur easily for it only takes about 10 bacterial cells for infection. The standard cooking rule of thumb is to cook the meat until all the juices run clear. The problem with hamburger meat is the fact that it is ground, for the once only surface dwelling bacteria plunge into every nook and cranny of the meat. A person who eats contaminated meat and gets infected, can spread the disease further through contaminated water. If any vegetables were washed in such water, or it was used to make a beverage, then it is likely to become a disease carrying entity. A case involving contaminated water occurred in July of 1993. Around 35,000 residents of New York City had to boil their water when it was discovered that somehow E. coli had made its way into the city’s water supply, despite the chlorination and filtration systems employed there.

Regarding treatment, the author of The Coming Plague , Laurie Garret, writes
“The Lederbergs [a research team] discovered tests that could identify streptomycin-resistant [E. coli] before the organisms were exposed to antibiotics. They showed that the use of antibiotics in colonies of bacteria in which even less than 1 percent of he organisms were generally resistant could have tragic results. The antibiotics would kill off the 99 percent of the bacteria that were susceptible, leaving a vast nutrient-filled petri dish free of competitor for the surviving resistant bacteria… the resistant bacteria rapidly multiplied and spread out, filling the petri dish within a matter of days with a uniformly antibiotic-resistant population of bacteria.”

Although that type of treatment was successful at first, the bacteria has grown, like others, resistant to many forms of antibiotics. What makes E. coli so resistant is that, like most bacteria roughly one out of every 10 million E. coli in a petri dish might randomly mutate to be resistant to, say penicillin. Then, if the drug were poured into the petri dish, 9,999,999 bacteria would die, but that one resistant E. coli would survive, and divide and multiply, passing its genes for resistance on to its progeny.

Because the rogue form of E. coli has gotten the majority of the press, many people don’t know that E. Coli in its natural form is actually a necessity. The future contamination and outbreaks will only proceed until people take proper precautions, and/or legislation regarding testing is passed. The problem does entail bacteria’s sped up evolution due to human’s role. It is a conundrum, if we try to cure it, it will evolve to break the cure.

Works Cited
“What the heck is an E. Coli?.” Bugs in the news. (7 October 2000)

Garrett, Laurie. The Coming Plague. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994.