Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) O157:H7 and certain non-O157 EHEC serotypes (such as O26:H11, O26: NM, O111:H8, and O111:NM) have emerged as significant causes of human disease throughout the world. Important virulence attributes of EHEC are the intimin protein (encoded by the eae gene) and Shiga toxins 1 and 2 (encoded by the stx1 and stx2 genes, respectively). Two sets of real-time polymerase chain reaction (R-PCR) assays were developed for the simultaneous detection and quantitation of EHEC through the monitoring of the presence of the eae and stx genes, and these assays were evaluated. In the eaeR-PCR assay, three sets of primers and TaqMan probes were designed for the amplification and real-time detection of a portion of the eae gene specific to the EHEC O26, O111, and O157 serotypes. In the stxR-PCR assay, two sets of primers and TaqMan probes were used to amplify and detect the stx1 and stx2 genes. DNA prepared from 67 bacterial strains carrying known virulence markers was tested to determine the specificities of the two assays. In the eaeR-PCR assay, eaeO157- and eaeO111-specific primer-probe sets identified only EHEC O157 and O111 strains, respectively. The eaeO26-specific primer-probe set identified all EHEC O26 isolates and some Shiga toxin–negative serotypes of enteropathogenic E. coli and rabbit diarrheagenic E. coli. The stxR-PCR assay was able to identify only those strains carrying either or both of the Shiga toxin–encoding genes. The detection range of both R-PCR assays was linear over DNA concentrations corresponding to 103 to 108 CFU/ml of an EHEC strain. Both assays were able to detect and quantify very low levels (1 to 10 CFU/g of food or feces) of EHEC in feces and ground beef enriched for 16 h in a modified Trypticase soy broth. In conclusion, eae- and stx-based R-PCR assays are reliable and sensitive methods for the rapid screening and specific and quantitative detection of important serotypes of EHEC in cattle and in foods of bovine origin.

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