BACKGROUND: The ability of a bacterial strain to competitively exclude or displace other strains can be attributed to the production of narrow spectrum antimicrobials, the bacteriocins. In an attempt to evaluate the importance of bacteriocin production for Escherichia coli strain residence in the gastrointestinal tract, a murine model experimental evolution study was undertaken.
RESULTS: Six colicin-producing, yet otherwise isogenic, E. coli strains were administered and established in the large intestine of streptomycin-treated mice. The strains' persistence, population density, and doubling time were monitored over a period of 112 days. Early in the experiment only minor differences in population density between the various colicin-producing and the non-producing control strains were detected. However, over time, the density of the control strains plummeted, while that of the colicin-producing strains remained significantly higher (F(7,66) = 2.317; P < 0.0008).
CONCLUSION: The data presented here support prior claims that bacteriocin production may play a significant role in the colonization of E. coli in the gastrointestinal tract. Further, this study suggests that the ability to produce bacteriocins may prove to be a critical factor in determining the success of establishing probiotic E. coli in the gastrointestinal tract of humans and animals.