E. coli K-12


Escherichia coli ''Escherichia coli'' (),Wells, J. C. (2000) Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. Harlow ngland Pearson Education Ltd. also known as ''E. coli'' (), is a Gram-negative Gram-negative bacteria are bacteria that do not retain the crystal violet st ...

Escherichia coli
'' (; commonly abbreviated ''E. coli'') is a
Gram-negative Gram-negative bacteria are bacteria Bacteria (; common noun bacteria, singular bacterium) are a type of Cell (biology), biological cell. They constitute a large domain (biology), domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few microm ...
gammaproteobacterium commonly found in the lower
intestine The gastrointestinal tract, (GI tract, GIT, digestive tract, digestion tract, alimentary canal) is the tract from the mouth to the anus which includes all the organs of the digestive system The human digestive system consists of the human ...
of warm-blooded organisms (endotherms). The descendants of two isolates, K-12 and B strain, are used routinely in molecular biology as both a tool and a model organism.


''Escherichia coli'' is one of the most diverse bacterial species, with several pathogenic strains with different symptoms and with only 20% of the genome common to all strains. Furthermore, from the evolutionary point of view, the members of genus ''
Shigella ''Shigella'' is a genus Genus (plural genera) is a taxonomic rank Taxonomy (general) is the practice and science of classification of things or concepts, including the principles that underlie such classification. The term may also refer to ...
'' (''dysenteriae'', ''flexneri'', ''boydii'', ''sonnei'') are actually ''E. coli'' strains "in disguise" (i.e. ''E. coli'' is
paraphyletic In taxonomy, a group is paraphyletic if it consists of the group's last common ancestor and all descendants of that ancestor excluding a few—typically only one or two—Monophyly, monophyletic subgroups. The group is said to be paraphyleti ...

to the genus).


In 1885,
Theodor Escherich Theodor is a masculine given name. It is a German form of Theodore. It is also a variant of Teodor Teodor is a masculine given name. In English, it is a cognate of Theodore (name), Theodore. Notable people with the name include: *Teodor Muzaka III ...

Theodor Escherich
, a German pediatrician, first discovered this species in the feces of healthy individuals and called it ''Bacterium coli commune'' because it is found in the colon and early classifications of Prokaryotes placed these in a handful of genera based on their shape and motility (at that time
Ernst Haeckel Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel (; 16 February 1834 – 9 August 1919) was a German zoologist Zoology ()The pronunciation of zoology as is typically regarded as nonstandard, though it is not uncommon. is the branch of biology that stu ...

Ernst Haeckel
's classification of Bacteria in the kingdom
Monera Monera (/məˈnɪərə/) (Greek - μονήρης (monḗrēs), "single", "solitary") is a biological kingdom that is made up of prokaryote A prokaryote () is a Unicellular organism, single-celled organism that lacks a cell nucleus, nucleus, a ...
was in place). Following a revision of Bacteria it was reclassified as ''Bacillus coli'' by Migula in 1895 and later reclassified as ''Escherichia coli''. Due to its ease of culture and fast doubling, it was used in the early microbiology experiments; however, bacteria were considered primitive and pre-cellular and received little attention before 1944, when Avery, Macleod and McCarty demonstrated that DNA was the genetic material using ''
Salmonella typhimurium ''Salmonella enterica'' subsp. ''enterica'' is a subspecies In Taxonomy (biology), biological classification, the term subspecies refers to one of two or more populations of a species living in different subdivisions of the species' range an ...

Salmonella typhimurium
'', following which ''Escherichia coli'' was used for linkage mapping studies.Lederber, J. 2004 E. coli K-12. Microbiology today 31:116


Four of the many ''E. coli'' strains (K-12, B, C, and W) are thought of as model organism strains. These are classified in Risk Group 1 in biosafety guidelines.

Escherich's isolate

The first isolate of Escherich was deposited in NCTC in 1920 by the Lister Institute in London


A strain was isolated from a stool sample of a patient convalescent from diphtheria and was labelled K-12 (not an antigen) in 1922 at Stanford University. This isolate was used in 1940s by Charles E. Clifton to study nitrogen metabolism, who deposited it in ATCC (strai
ATCC 10798
and lent it to Edward Tatum for his tryptophan biosynthesis experiments, despite its idiosyncrasies due to the F+ λ+ phenotype. In the course of the passages it lost its O antigen and in 1953 was cured first of its lambda phage
strain W1485
by UV by
Joshua Lederberg Joshua Lederberg, ForMemRS (May 23, 1925 – February 2, 2008) was an American molecular biologist known for his work in microbial genetics, artificial intelligence Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence demonstrated by machines, u ...

Joshua Lederberg
and colleagues) and then in 1985 of the F plasmid by acridine orange curing. Strains derived from MG1655 include DH1, parent of DH5α and in turn of DH10B (rebranded as TOP10 by Invitrogen). An alternative lineage from W1485 is that of W2637 (which contains an inversion rrnD-rrnE), which in turn resulted in W3110. Due to the lack of specific record-keeping, the "pedigree" of strains was not available and had to be inferred by consulting lab-book and records in order to set up the E. coli Genetic Stock Centre at Yale by Barbara Bachmann. The different strains have been derived through treating E. coli K-12 with agents such as nitrogen mustard, ultra-violet radiation, X-ray etc. An extensive list of ''Escherichia coli'' K-12 strain derivatives and their individual construction, genotypes, phenotypes, plasmids and phage information can be viewed a

B strain

A second common laboratory strain is the B strain, whose history is less straightforward and the first naming of the strain as ''E. coli'' B was by Delbrück and Luria in 1942 in their study of bacteriophages T1 and T7. The original ''E. coli'' B strain, known then as ''Bacillus coli'', originated from Félix d'Herelle from the Institut Pasteur in Paris around 1918 who studied bacteriophages, who claimed that it originated from Collection of the Institut Pasteur, but no strains of that period exist. The strain of d'Herelle was passed to Jules Bordet, Director of the Institut Pasteur du Brabant in Bruxelles and his student André Gratia. The former passed the strain to Ann Kuttner ("the Bact. coli obtained from Dr. Bordet") and in turn to Eugène Wollman (B. coli Bordet), whose son deposited it in 1963 (CIP 63.70) as "strain BAM" (B American), while André Gratia passed the strain to Martha Wollstein, a researcher at Rockefeller, who refers to the strain as "Brussels strain of ''Bacillus coli''" in 1921, who in turn passed it to Jacques Bronfenbrenner (B. coli P.C.), who passed it to Delbrück and Luria. This strain gave rise to several other strains, such as REL606 and BL21.

C strain

''E. coli'' C is morphologically distinct from other ''E. coli'' strains; it is more spherical in shape and has a distinct distribution of its nucleoid.

W strain

The W strain was isolated from the soil near Rutgers University by Selman Waksman.

Role in biotechnology

Because of its long history of laboratory culture and ease of manipulation, ''E. coli'' also plays an important role in modern biological engineering and industrial microbiology. The work of Stanley Norman Cohen and Herbert Boyer in ''E. coli'', using plasmids and restriction enzymes to create recombinant DNA, became a foundation of biotechnology. Considered a very versatile host for the production of heterologous proteins, researchers can introduce genes into the microbes using plasmids, allowing for the mass production of proteins in industrial fermentation processes. Genetic systems have also been developed which allow the production of recombinant proteins using ''E. coli''. One of the first useful applications of recombinant DNA technology was the manipulation of ''E. coli'' to produce human insulin. Modified ''E. coli'' have been used in vaccine development, bioremediation, and production of immobilised enzymes. ''E. coli'' have been used successfully to produce proteins previously thought difficult or impossible in ''E. coli'', such as those containing multiple disulfide bonds or those requiring post-translational modification for stability or function. The cellular environment of ''E. coli'' is normally too reducing for disulphide bonds to form, proteins with disulphide bonds therefore may be secreted to its periplasmic space, however, mutants in which the reduction of both thioredoxins and glutathione is impaired also allow disulphide bonded proteins to be produced in the cytoplasm of ''E. coli''. It has also been used to produce proteins with various post-translational modifications, including glycoproteins by using the N-linked glycosylation system of ''Campylobacter jejuni'' engineered into ''E. coli''. Efforts are currently under way to expand this technology to produce complex glycosylations. Studies are also being performed into programming ''E. coli'' to potentially solve complicated mathematics problems such as the Hamiltonian path problem.

Model organism

''E. coli'' is frequently used as a model organism in microbiology studies. Cultivated strains (e.g. ''E. coli'' K-12) are well-adapted to the laboratory environment, and, unlike wild type strains, have lost their ability to thrive in the intestine. Many lab strains lose their ability to form biofilms. These features protect wild type strains from antibody, antibodies and other chemical attacks, but require a large expenditure of energy and material resources. In 1946,
Joshua Lederberg Joshua Lederberg, ForMemRS (May 23, 1925 – February 2, 2008) was an American molecular biologist known for his work in microbial genetics, artificial intelligence Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence demonstrated by machines, u ...

Joshua Lederberg
and Edward Tatum first described the phenomenon known as bacterial conjugation using ''E. coli'' as a model bacterium, and it remains a primary model to study conjugation. ''E. coli'' was an integral part of the first experiments to understand bacteriophage, phage genetics, and early researchers, such as Seymour Benzer, used ''E. coli'' and phage T4 to understand the topography of gene structure. Prior to Benzer's research, it was not known whether the gene was a linear structure, or if it had a branching pattern. ''E. coli'' was one of the first organisms to have its genome sequenced; the complete genome of ''E. coli'' K-12 was published by ''Science'' in 1997.

Lenski's long-term evolution experiment

The long-term evolution experiments using ''E. coli'', begun by Richard Lenski in 1988, have allowed direct observation of major evolutionary shifts in the laboratory. In this experiment, one population of ''E. coli'' unexpectedly evolved the ability to aerobically metabolize citrate. This capacity is extremely rare in ''E. coli''. As the inability to grow aerobically is normally used as a diagnostic criterion with which to differentiate ''E. coli'' from other, closely related bacteria such as ''Salmonella'', this innovation may mark a speciation event observed in the lab.


{{portal bar, Biology Escherichia coli Gram-negative bacteria