In 2011 a large outbreak of enterohemorrhagic gastroenteritis and haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) throughout Europe resulted in almost 4,000 infections, 845 cases of HUS and 54 fatalities. This was due to a dangerous exchange of mobile genetic elements (MGE) resulting in a hybrid strain of O104:H4. This strain carried an unusual combination of EAEC- and STEC-associated virulence factors on a plasmid and phage respectively. the virulence plasmid has exhibited unusual stability under a wide range of environmental stresses, contrasting with rapid plasmid loss in the human gut. This project will characterise plasmid encoded maintenance systems responsible for its unique stability. Current investigations focus on toxin-antitoxin (TA) systems involved in postsegregationalkilling which contribute to plasmid maintenance therefore resulting in increased virulence. By inducing expression of putative TA genes cloned onto lab-made plasmid vectors, we have analysed their function in the cell. Once characterised we will further investigate the effects of various environmental conditions able to disrupt these TA systems, ultimately resulting in plasmid loss. This atypical strain displayed heightened pathogenicity and providedun foreseen treatment challenges. We aim to further our understanding of MGE carriage in O104:H4 as a model to predict and combat future outbreaks of hybrid pathovars.


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