Diversity in cell properties and transport behavior among 12 different environmental escherichia coli isolates
Received for publication March 21, 2008. Escherichia coli is a commonly used indicator organism for detecting the presence of fecal-borne pathogenic microorganisms in water supplies. The importance of E. coli as an indicator organism has led to numerous studies looking at cell properties and transport behavior of this microorganism. In many of these studies, however, only a single strain of E. coli was used even though research has shown that significant genetic variability exists among different strains of E. coli. If this genetic diversity results in differences in cell properties that affect transport, different strains of E. coli may exhibit different rates of transport in the environment. Therefore, the objectives of our study were to investigate the variability in surface characteristics and transport behavior of E. coli isolates obtained from six different sources: beef cattle, dairy cattle, horse, human, poultry, and wildlife. Cell properties such as electrophoretic mobility, cell size and shape, hydrophobicity, charge density, and extracellular polymeric substance composition were measured for each isolate. In addition, the transport behavior of each isolate was assessed by measuring transport through 10-cm packed beds of clean quartz sand. Our results show a large diversity in cell properties and transport behavior for the different E. coli isolates. This diversity in transport behavior must be taken into account when making assessments of the suitability of using E. coli as an indicator organism for specific pathogenic microorganisms in groundwater environments as well as modeling the movement of E. coli in the subsurface.