Escherichia coli or E. coli as it is abbreviated, is commonly known as a disease causing organism. Before discussing it as a potential pathogen, note the structure and function of the organism. First of all, E. coli is a gram-negative bacteria. It is shaped like a rod and is one of the most commonly studied organism. Most strains of this bacteria are harmless and can be found in the large intestine of many warm-blooded animals. These bacteria actually have many beneficial effects on the human body, providing vitamin K and preventing pathogenic bacteria from growing in the intestine. Since E. coli is a facultatively anaerobic organism, it can survive in both an oxygen and oxygen-free environment.
E. coli is a model organism to study because it can change it’s genome. The organism is very hardy and can develop new traits that will help the organism survive in different environments. Scientists, in a laboratory setting, are able to manipulate E. coli to take on different traits and are interested in it’s biotechnology potential.
Although the majority of E. coli strains are harmless, it can be a pathogen as well. This bacteria can cause infection resulting in diarrhea and urinary tract infections, as well as many other diseases. In some severe cases, it can cause bacterial meningitis and pneumonia. These infections are much less common and contracting an E. coli infection will usually result in gastrointestinal problems only.
This organism is spread primarily by the fecal-oral route. Those with poor hygiene habits can transmit the disease to another person or an inanimate object that someone else will touch. Then if that other person touches their mouth, ears, or if there is a cut in the skin, the E. coli will enter that person’s system. If the amount of organisms is large, infection will occur which can result in disease. The severity will vary depending on the infectious dose, the portal of entry, and the person’s own health.