Genomic Investigation of Virulence Potential in Shiga Toxin Escherichia coli (STEC) Strains From a Semi-Hard Raw Milk Cheese

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Shiga-toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) represents a significant cause of foodborne disease. In the last years, an increasing number of STEC infections associated with the consumption of raw and pasteurized milk cheese have been reported, contributing to raise the public awareness. The aim of this study is to evaluate the main genomic features of STEC strains isolated from a semi-hard raw milk cheese, focusing on their pathogenic potential. The analysis of 75 cheese samples collected during the period between April 2019 and January 2020 led to the isolation of seven strains from four stx-positive enrichment. The genome investigation evidenced the persistence of two serotypes, O174:H2 and O116:H48. All strains carried at least one stx gene and were negative for eae gene. The virulence gene pattern was homogeneous among the serogroup/ST and included adherence factors (lpfA, iha, ompT, papC, saa, sab, hra, and hes), enterohemolysin (ehxA), serum resistance (iss, tra), cytotoxin-encoding genes like epeA and espP, and the Locus of Adhesion and Autoaggregation Pathogenicity Islands (LAA PAIs) typically found in Locus of Enterocyte Effacement (LEE)-negative STEC. Genome plasticity indicators, namely, prophagic sequences carrying stx genes and plasmid replicons, were detected, leading to the possibility to share virulence determinants with other strains. Overall, our work adds new knowledge on STEC monitoring in raw milk dairy products, underlining the fundamental role of whole genome sequencing (WGS) for typing these unknown isolates. Since, up to now, some details about STEC pathogenesis mechanism is lacking, the continuous monitoring in order to protect human health and increase knowledge about STEC genetic features becomes essential.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • LEE negative
  • STEC
  • raw milk cheese
  • virulence
  • whole genome sequencing

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