Heteropathogenic virulence and phylogeny reveal phased pathogenic metamorphosis in Escherichia coli O2: H6

Martina Bielaszewska, Roswitha Schiller, Lydia Lammers, Andreas Bauwens, Angelika Fruth, Barbara Middendorf, M. Alexander Schmidt, Phillip I. Tarr, Ulrich Dobrindt, Helge Karch, Alexander Mellmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Extraintestinal pathogenic and intestinal pathogenic (diarrheagenic) Escherichia coli differ phylogenetically and by virulence profiles. Classic theory teaches simple linear descent in this species, where non-pathogens acquire virulence traits and emerge as pathogens. However, diarrheagenic Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O2:H6 not only possess and express virulence factors associated with diarrheagenic and uropathogenic E. coli but also cause diarrhea and urinary tract infections. These organisms are phylogenetically positioned between members of an intestinal pathogenic group (STEC) and extraintestinal pathogenic E. coli. STEC O2:H6 is, therefore, a 'heteropathogen,' and the first such hybrid virulent E. coli identified. The phylogeny of these E. coli and the repertoire of virulence traits they possess compel consideration of an alternate view of pathogen emergence, whereby one pathogroup of E. coli undergoes phased metamorphosis into another. By understanding the evolutionary mechanisms of bacterial pathogens, rational strategies for counteracting their detrimental effects on humans can be developed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-357
Number of pages11
JournalEMBO Molecular Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Heteropathogenicity
  • Phased metamorphosis
  • Phylogeny
  • Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli
  • Uropathogenic Escherichia coli


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