Genomics and pathotypes of the many faces of Escherichia coli

Jeroen Geurtsen, Mark de Been, Eveline Weerdenburg, Aldert Zomer, Alan McNally, Jan Poolman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Escherichia coli is the most researched microbial organism in the world. Its varied impact on human health, consisting of commensalism, gastrointestinal disease, or extraintestinal pathologies, has generated a separation of the species into at least eleven pathotypes (also known as pathovars). These are broadly split into two groups, intestinal pathogenic E. coli (InPEC) and extraintestinal pathogenic E. coli (ExPEC). However, components of E. coli's infinite open accessory genome are horizontally transferred with substantial frequency, creating pathogenic hybrid strains that defy a clear pathotype designation. Here, we take a birds-eye view of the E. coli species, characterizing it from historical, clinical, and genetic perspectives. We examine the wide spectrum of human disease caused by E. coli, the genome content of the bacterium, and its propensity to acquire, exchange, and maintain antibiotic resistance genes and virulence traits. Our portrayal of the species also discusses elements that have shaped its overall population structure and summarizes the current state of vaccine development targeted at the most frequent E. coli pathovars. In our conclusions, we advocate streamlining efforts for clinical reporting of ExPEC, and emphasize the pathogenic potential that exists throughout the entire species.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberfuac031
JournalFEMS Microbiology Reviews
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Final Version of Record not yet available as of 19/07/2022.

© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of FEMS.


  • Accessory genome
  • antibiotic resistance
  • bacterial species
  • Escherichia coli pathotypes
  • population dynamics
  • virulence factors


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