Entero-pathogentic Escherichia coli cause diarrhoea. They are thought to be human-specific and are rarely recovered from healthy humans. However, a recent study has shown that as many as a third of Australian flying foxes may harbour entero-pathogenic E. coli. These bacteria to appear be living as commensals in the bat gut and do not cause disease. Although these bacteria from bats possess the virulence genes through to be responsible for causing disease in humans, are they the same as the strains known to cause disease in humans? Given that flying foxes generally roost near water and often roost in close proximity to humans, are flying fox a potential zoonotic reservoir for these pathogens, or might the presence of these virulence factors be a consequence of living in host with unusual gastro-intestinal dynamics.
This study will take a genotypic and phenotypic approach and will compare and contrast entero-pathogenic E. coli from humans and flying fox. The study will make use of a large collection of whole genome sequence data and a range of bioinformatic tools to determine how the pan genome of these bacteria differ between isolates from humans and bats. The study will also determine the phenotypic characteristics of human and bat isolates. Phenotypic assays will include, for example, substrate utilisation, agglutination assays, biofilm formation, and bacteriocin production.