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Comparison of strand-specific transcriptomes of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157:H7 EDL933 (EHEC) under eleven different environmental conditions including radish sprouts and cattle feces

Richard Landstorfer1, Svenja Simon2, Steffen Schober3, Daniel Keim2, Siegfried Scherer1 and Klaus Neuhaus1*

Author Affiliations

1 Lehrstuhl für Mikrobielle Ökologie, Wissenschaftszentrum Weihenstephan, Technische Universität München, Weihenstephaner Berg 3, D-85350 Freising, Germany

2 Lehrstuhl für Datenanalyse und Visualisierung, Fachbereich Informatik und Informationswissenschaft, Universität Konstanz, Box 78, D-78457 Konstanz, Germany

3 Institut für Nachrichtentechnik, Universität Ulm, Albert-Einstein-Allee 43, D-89081 Ulm, Germany

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:353  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-353

Published: 9 May 2014



Multiple infection sources for enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157:H7 (EHEC) are known, including animal products, fruit and vegetables. The ecology of this pathogen outside its human host is largely unknown and one third of its annotated genes are still hypothetical. To identify genetic determinants expressed under a variety of environmental factors, we applied strand-specific RNA-sequencing, comparing the SOLiD and Illumina systems.


Transcriptomes of EHEC were sequenced under 11 different biotic and abiotic conditions: LB medium at pH4, pH7, pH9, or at 15°C; LB with nitrite or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole; LB-agar surface, M9 minimal medium, spinach leaf juice, surface of living radish sprouts, and cattle feces. Of 5379 annotated genes in strain EDL933 (genome and plasmid), a surprising minority of only 144 had null sequencing reads under all conditions. We therefore developed a statistical method to distinguish weakly transcribed genes from background transcription. We find that 96% of all genes and 91.5% of the hypothetical genes exhibit a significant transcriptional signal under at least one condition. Comparing SOLiD and Illumina systems, we find a high correlation between both approaches for fold-changes of the induced or repressed genes. The pathogenicity island LEE showed highest transcriptional activity in LB medium, minimal medium, and after treatment with antibiotics. Unique sets of genes, including many hypothetical genes, are highly up-regulated on radish sprouts, cattle feces, or in the presence of antibiotics. Furthermore, we observed induction of the shiga-toxin carrying phages by antibiotics and confirmed active biofilm related genes on radish sprouts, in cattle feces, and on agar plates.


Since only a minority of genes (2.7%) were not active under any condition tested (null reads), we suggest that the assumption of significant genome over-annotations is wrong. Environmental transcriptomics uncovered hitherto unknown gene functions and unique regulatory patterns in EHEC. For instance, the environmental function of azoR had been elusive, but this gene is highly active on radish sprouts. Thus, NGS-transcriptomics is an appropriate technique to propose new roles of hypothetical genes and to guide future research.

EHEC; Radish sprouts; Cattle feces; Environment; Global transcriptome; Next Generation Sequencing; SOLiD-Illumina comparison; Background transcription; Hypothetical genes