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Study on the effects of plant age and root damage on internalization of shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli

This study examined the effects of plant species and age on the likelihood and level of internalization of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) in aquaponic and hydroponic systems. Four plant species, basil (Ocimum basilicum L. cv. Genovese), cilantro (Coriandrum Sativum L.), lettuce (Lactuca sativa cv. Cherokee), and kale (Brassica oleracea var. sabellica), received root damage treatment as seedlings before transplanting or mature plants at three weeks after transplanting by cutting off 1-cm tips of one-third of the roots.

Enrichments and selective media were used for the isolation, and presumptive positive colonies were confirmed by PCR for the presence of stx1 gene in plant tissues, recirculating water, and fish feces collected at four weeks after transplanting. In hydroponic systems, STEC was found neither in the solution nor in the roots and leaves of all four plant species, possibly through improved sanitation and hygiene practices. However, consistent with previous findings, STEC was found in the water, on the plant roots, and in the fish feces in aquaponic systems, even after thorough sanitation prior to the study. Regardless of plant age, STEC was internalized in the roots of all plant species when the roots were damaged, but there was no difference in the degree of internalization with STEC among plant species.

STEC was present in the leaves only when seedlings received root damage treatment and were grown to maturity, indicating that root damage allows STEC to internalize in the roots within a week, but a longer period is required for STEC to internalize into the leaves. It was concluded that root damage on seedlings can cause the internalization of E. coli O157:H7 in the edible parts of leafy vegetables and herbs in soilless production systems.

Read the complete article at

Yi-Ju, Wang & Deering, Amanda & Kim, Hye-Ji. (2021). Effects of Plant Age and Root Damage on Internalization of Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli in Leafy Vegetables and Herbs. Horticulturae. 7. 68. 10.3390/horticulturae7040068. 


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