E. coli update: sprouts as the culprit?

The E. coli story is moving quickly. A news report out today suggests that sprouts might be the culprit (though it should be emphasized that the outbreak strain hasn't been isolated from these vegetables yet):

Mr Lindemann said epidemiological studies all seemed to point to the plant nursery in Uelzen in the state of Lower Saxony, about 100km (62m) south of Hamburg - though official tests had not yet shown the presence of the bacteria there.

"Further evidence has emerged which points to a plant nursery in Uelzen as the source of the EHEC cases, or at least one of the sources," he said.

"The nursery grows a wide variety of beansprouts from seeds imported from different countries."

As far as the molecular analyses, Kat Holt and David Holme have been doing some additional analyses of the released genome sequences, and it looks like this is an old strain of enteroaggregative E. coli (the type which usually cause more run-of-the-mill diarrhea; free review here, but it's a bit dated) which has simply acquired the Shiga toxin. From Kat:

It will be interesting to see what more can be found as the assemblies of the strains are improved with additional data. While the analysis so far suggests that this is a classic case of E. coli sharing genes via various mechanisms of horizontal transfer (i.e. bacteria doing what bacteria do), it will be very interesting to tease out the subtleties of the virulence genes and how they interplay to result in this particularly virulent bug.

For me, another interesting unanswered question will be the origin--if it's on the sprouts, how did it get there? Are animals in the area carrying this? Why so many antibiotic resistance genes? Still quite a bit to learn, even if the sprouts indeed turn out to be the vehicle.

More like this

After Friday's post, I've held off on writing much about the German E. coli outbreak, often referred to by its serotype, O104:H4, or as HUSEC041 (HUS stands for hemolytic uremic syndrome). Having had the weekend to digest some of the ongoing analysis and news reports, here are some additional…
Mike has has a great new post up looking at some molecular analyses of the current European outbreak strain. For anyone who hasn't been paying close attention to what's happening across the pond, there's an ongoing outbreak of enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC)--the type of E. coli that includes O157…
Regarding the German outbreak strain of E. coli, the data are fairly clear: it is an enteroaggregative E. coli ('EAEC') which has acquired antibiotic resistance genes and a Shiga-like toxin from an Shiga-toxinogenic E. coli ('STEC'). EAEC are interesting--according to the European Food Safety…
Sure, we have obesity problems in this country, but we also have more direct food safety problems. Summer has brought with it news of the bungled tomato-Salmonella affair, and now, from the Midwest, contaminated beef. One of our local supermarket chains has been forced to recall hamburger meat…

Sprouts would make a lot of sense as the source of the outbreak - they're raised in containment, under warm and humid conditions, quite ideal for many bacteria. It would also explain the enigmatic distribution pattern - everybody was trying to figure out where all the salad could have been contaminated, when it really was the salad garnish.

Uelzen is an agricultural center, mostly grain and potatoes. Not much livestock farming, but perhaps one of the adjoining farms employed liquid manure as fertilizer. If the manure came from a farm which recently employed antibiotics for its pigs, all the loose ends would be tied up.

By Phillip IV (not verified) on 05 Jun 2011 #permalink

Just out of curiosity I was wondering "IF" the German farmers WERE STILL USING HONEY BUCKETS to Fertilize Their Fields like they were when I was in the U.S. Army stationed there in the middle 1950's just outside of Mannheim? AND YES it WAS HUMAN Crap!

By Darryl Jones (not verified) on 05 Jun 2011 #permalink

New findings on the E. coli O104 that is causing deaths in Europe

New York. USA. A private biotechnology company used their DNA scanning algorithms to determine that E. coli O104 has genomic signatures specific to Stx2 converting phage I and Stx2 converting phage II previously found in strains of the outbreak in Sakai city, Japan, in 1996. These genomic signatures are absent in the Central African E coli EAEC 55989.

bilogic @ #5:


Or may be it is more like:


Wow, now that's a load of bs big enough to fertilize most of Lower Saxony. Flagrant paranoia combined with a complete lack of understanding of even the merest basics of evolution? Mike Adams, the lacking-mental-Health Ranger does it again - with 'it' being 'coming up with a screed that wouldn't even pass muster as a script for an Ed Wood movie'. Orac could have a field day with this, let's hope he gets around to it.

By Phillip IV (not verified) on 06 Jun 2011 #permalink

So the most likely explanation for the E coli outbreak is Big Pharma trying to poison us all...
They deliberately engineered a bug which isn't susceptible to their drugs and set up the Spanish for the blame because Spain didn't want to introduce GM crops...

I had to stop reading the article because my laughter was disturbing the office.

I agree with #6 - here's hoping Orac covers it!

By zoonotica (not verified) on 06 Jun 2011 #permalink

E. coli outbreak: German beansprouts 'probable' cause

Because everyone knows that bean sprouts carry pathogenic E. coli in their digestive tracts.

Looks like I am not the only one who has recalled this event.


The bioterrorism itself was not an elaborate conspiracy, but was widely exploited for power and money. I see the same thing happening now in this e coli mystery.

I appreciate this blog very much because there is no agenda-driven fear mongering here.


It seems highly unlikely that the outbreak strain has been engineered for bioterrorism/conspiracy for the only reason that the biological natural explanation is much more likely.

An example with terrorism: how do we know when any given act is the result of terrorism? Because it doesnât happen naturally: cars or people donât just spontaneously blow up and kill people. However, generations and generations of doctors and scientists have recorded and observed outbreaks happening in the past, some are happening now and others will happen in the future. Recombination between closely related bacteria is a natural process, there is no need for human engineering for that to happen, and that's a scientific fact. Why always look for the unlikeliest explanation when the likeliest is not even dismissed?

If you didn't think that the link you posted was a (poor) conspiracy theory, and if you think after reading it that poweful forces are manipulating you on topics you don't really understand (because yes, if you find the pseudoscience in the link you posted convincing, that's the case) you've been fooled. But there's nothing wrong in informing yourself: try to look at the source as much as possible and not using dubious proxies manipulating your beliefs and opinions.

Wikipedia is also generally a good start and is not that hard to type in Google. A generally good principle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam's_razor.

I think that it is safe enough to say that perhaps... the e coli outbreak manifesting in Germany is probably due in part to Adolph Hitler's bizarre perverse sexuality, hence, his fascination with sexual urination/defecation. Please...