The putative functions of lysogeny in mediating the survivorship ofEscherichia coliin seawater and marine sediment

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Escherichia coli colonizes various body parts of animal hosts as a commensal and a pathogen. It can also persist in the external environment in the absence of fecal pollution. It remains unclear how this species has evolved to adapt to such contrasting habitats. Lysogeny plays pivotal roles in the diversification of the phenotypic and ecologic characters of E. coli as a symbiont. We hypothesized that lysogeny could also confer fitness to survival in the external environment. To test this hypothesis, we used the induced phages of an E. coli strain originating from marine sediment to infect a fecal E. coli strain to obtain an isogenic lysogen of the latter. The three strains were tested for survivorship in microcosms of seawater, marine sediment and sediment interstitial water as well as swimming motility, glycogen accumulation, biofilm formation, substrate utilization and stress resistance. The results indicate that lysogenic infection led to tractable changes in many of the ecophysiological attributes tested. Particularly, the lysogen had better survivorship in the microcosms and had a substrate utilization profile resembling the sediment strain more than the wild type fecal strain. Our findings provide new insights into the understanding of how E. coli survives in the natural environment.

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