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Prevalence, distribution and evolutionary significance of the IS629 insertion element in the stepwise emergence of Escherichia coli O157:H7

Lydia V Rump12*, Markus Fischer2 and Narjol Gonzalez-Escalona1

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Microbiology, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration, 5100 Paint Branch Parkway, College Park, MD 20740, USA

2 Institute of Food Chemistry, University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany

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BMC Microbiology 2011, 11:133  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-11-133

Published: 14 June 2011



Insertion elements (IS) are known to play an important role in the evolution and genomic diversification of Escherichia coli O157:H7 lineages. In particular, IS629 has been found in multiple copies in the E. coli O157:H7 genome and is one of the most prevalent IS in this serotype. It was recently shown that the lack of O157 antigen expression in two O rough E. coli O157:H7 strains was due to IS629 insertions at 2 different locations in the gne gene that is essential for the O antigen biosynthesis.


The comparison of 4 E. coli O157:H7 genome and plasmid sequences showed numerous IS629 insertion sites, although not uniformly distributed among strains. Comparison of IS629s found in O157:H7 and O55:H7 showed the presence of at least three different IS629 sub-types. O157:H7 strains carry IS629 elements sub-type I and III whereby the ancestral O55:H7 carries sub-type II. Analysis of strains selected from various clonal groups defined on the E. coli O157:H7 stepwise evolution model showed that IS629 was not observed in sorbitol fermenting O157 (SFO157) clones that are on a divergent pathway in the emergence of O157:H7. This suggests that the absence of IS629 in SFO157 strains probably occurred during the divergence of this lineage, albeit it remains uncertain if it contributed, in part, to their divergence from other closely related strains.


The highly variable genomic locations of IS629 in O157:H7 strains of the A6 clonal complex indicates that this insertion element probably played an important role in genome plasticity and in the divergence of O157:H7 lineages.