Comparison of Escherichia coli in birds and humans

Escherichia coli is normally thought of as a commensal of the lower gastro-intestinal tract of mammals and is typically much less common in birds. There are many differences between strains of E. coli taken from non-human mammals and strains recovered from humans. However, there appears to be more sharing of traits between E. coli strains recovered from humans and strains recovered from poultry. Indeed, some researchers suspect that many of the traits and gene associations that lead to an E. coli strains being able to cause extra-intestinal infections in humans, such as pyelonephritis and meningitis, evolved in poultry.

There has, however, been no careful comparison of the distribution of traits though to enhance a strain’s ability to cause extra-intestinal infection between E. coli strains from human and from birds. Nor do we know if the strains found in native birds differ from those found in poultry.

This project will examine the gene content and genetic structure of E. coli isolated from birds. The study will make use of an extensive collection of E. coli strains that will enable comparisons to be made between the diversity and frequency of extra-intestinal virulence traits in humans, non-human associated native birds, human associated native birds, and poultry.

The research will provide the student with experience in a variety of basic microbiological techniques and familiarity with a variety of molecular techniques including primer design, PCR-screening and DNA sequencing. Data analysis will involve a variety of comparative genomics, phylogenetic and statistical methods. No previous experience with micro-organisms is required. This project is suitable for a February or July start.