Shiga toxin producing Escherichia coli O157 can cause severe bloody diarrhea and haemolytic uraemic syndrome. Phage typing of E. coli O157 facilitates public health surveillance and outbreak investigations, certain phage types are more likely to occupy specific niches and are associated with specific age groups and disease severity. The aim of this study was to analyse the genome sequences of 16 (fourteen T4 and two T7) E. coli O157 typing phages and to determine the genes responsible for the subtle differences in phage type profiles.
The typing phages were sequenced using paired-end Illumina sequencing at The Genome Analysis Centre and the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency and bioinformatics programs including Velvet, Brig and Easyfig were used to analyse them. A two-way Euclidian cluster analysis highlighted the associations between groups of phage types and typing phages. The analysis showed that the T7 typing phages (9 and 10) differed by only three genes and that the T4 typing phages formed three distinct groups of similar genomic sequences: Group 1 (1, 8, 11, 12 and 15, 16), Group 2 (3, 6, 7 and 13) and Group 3 (2, 4, 5 and 14). The E. coli O157 phage typing scheme exhibited a significantly modular network linked to the genetic similarity of each group showing that these groups are specialised to infect a subset of phage types.
Sequencing the typing phage has enabled us to identify the variable genes within each group and to determine how this corresponds to changes in phage type.