Monday, June 6, 2011

A breif history of our dependence on E.Coli (or why is E.Coli not a totem animal)

As everybody else, I will write a few words on the enterohemoharric E.coli  (EHEC) outbreak. E.Coli or Escherichia Coli is in general a very nice helpfull guy. 

I have played with the ancient/new age idea of totem animals and how they seldom include the really cool animals such as viruses and microbes. I would like to add EBV as my totem animal. But E.Coli is not a bad totem animal either. It has helped humanity tremendously; it is like the modern day horse. The world would look different without it.E. Coli have been cultured and harvest in labs for almost 100 years. Without E. Coli biotechnology as we know it would not exist. E. Coli is used to culture and harvest proteins that we depend upon for health. This includes insulin antibiotics, vaccines and many other therapies. 

E.Coli producing insulin

The benefits of E.Coli does not end there. James Liao of the University of California (UCLA) have developed a way to produce normal butanol using E. Coli. Butanol might be a greener alternative to gasoline.
E. Coli's more imaginative applications include by inserting genes that produce light, it has been used to make primitive cameras.

As I wrote in earlier postings, we have an abundance of bacteria living in harmony inside us and E.Coli is one of them.
We are colonized from the moment we take our first breath and this is a good thing. We depend on the bacteria to take up space and compete out dangerous organisms.
How is that for a totem animal, it can be used for the benefits for all and the individual depends on it for good health and we are in constant interaction with it?

It is a universal truth and thus includes bacteria, E. Coli comes with a constructive and destructive possibility. E. Coli have been the villain in epidemics . What we see now is on its way to become the biggest outbreak in history with approximately (so far) 1,730 infections and 18 deaths. The bad version of  E.Coli carries genes for a poison known as Shiga toxin ( dubbed after Japanese bacteriologist Kiyoshi Shiga).It halts protein synthesis in cells.

The villain in the recent outbreak is called strain O104:H4. This strain contain segments of DNA not seen in other E. coli strains. The new DNA is hypothesized to be responsible for the high level of virulence. To make things worse, the O104:H4 strain has even acquired new genes that make them resistant to antibiotics. It is the darth vader of bacteria.

The life cycle looks like this; The microbes  get into vegetables through manure-laced irrigation water. In the large intestine, they insert molecular needles into gut cells and inject molecules causing the cells to dump out nutrients for the bacteria to feed on.

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