Formation of Escherichia coli O157:H7 Persister Cells in the Lettuce Phyllosphere and Application of Differential Equation Models To Predict Their Prevalence on Lettuce Plants in the Field.


O157:H7 (EcO157) declines rapidly when applied onto plants in the field, and few cells survive over prolonged periods of time. We hypothesized that these cells are persisters, which are in a dormant state and which arise naturally in bacterial populations. When lettuce plants were inoculated with EcO157 in the laboratory, the greatest persister fraction in the population was observed during population decline on dry leaf surfaces. Using mathematical modeling, we calculated the switch rate from an EcO157 normal to persister cell on dry lettuce plants based on our laboratory data. The model was applied to published studies in which lettuce was inoculated with EcO157 in the field, and switch rates similar to those obtained in our study were obtained. Our results contribute important new knowledge about the physiology of this virulent pathogen on plants to be considered to enhance produce safety.

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