• Relating growth potential and biofilm formation of Shigatoxigenic Escherichia coli to in planta colonisation and the metabolome of ready- to-eat crops

      Merget, Bernhard; Forbes, Ken J; Brennan, Fiona P.; McAteer, Sean P; Shepherd, Tom; Strachan, Norval J; Holden, Nicola; FSA; Scottish Rural & Environment Science & Analytical Services Division; FS101056 (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 2019-01-17)
      Contamination of fresh produce with pathogenic Escherichia coli, including Shigatoxigenic E. coli (STEC), represents a serious risk to human health. Colonisation is governed by multiple bacterial and plant factors that can impact on the probability and suitability of bacterial growth. Thus, we aimed to determine whether the growth potential of STEC for plants associated with foodborne outbreaks (two leafy vegetables and two sprouted seed species), is predictive for colonisation of living plants as assessed from growth kinetics and biofilm formation in plant extracts. Fitness of STEC was compared to environmental E. coli, at temperatures relevant to plant growth. Growth kinetics in plant extracts varied in a plant-dependent and isolate-dependent manner for all isolates, with spinach leaf lysates supporting the fastest rates of growth. Spinach extracts also supported the highest levels of biofilm formation. Saccharides were identified as the major driver of bacterial growth, although no single metabolite could be correlated with growth kinetics. The highest level of in planta colonisation occurred on alfalfa sprouts, though internalisation was 10-times more prevalent in the leafy vegetables than in sprouted seeds. Marked differences in in planta growth meant that growth potential could only be inferred for STEC for sprouted seeds. In contrast, biofilm formation in extracts related to spinach colonisation. Overall, the capacity of E. coli to colonise, grow and internalise within plants or plant-derived matrices were influenced by the isolate type, plant species, plant tissue type and temperature, complicating any straight-forward relationship between in vitro and in planta behaviours. Importance Fresh produce is an important vehicle for STEC transmission and experimental evidence shows that STEC can colonise plants as secondary hosts, but differences in the capacity to colonise occur between different plant species and tissues. Therefore, an understanding of the impact of these plant factors have on the ability of STEC to grow and establish is required for food safety considerations and risk assessment. Here, we determined whether growth and the ability of STEC to form biofilms in plants extracts could be related to specific plant metabolites or could predict the ability of the bacteria to colonise living plants. Growth rates for sprouted seeds (alfalfa and fenugreek) exhibited a positive relationship between plant extracts and living plants, but not for leafy vegetables (lettuce and spinach). Therefore, the detailed variations at the level of the bacterial isolate, plant species and tissue type all need to be considered in risk assessment.