The mists of uncertainty are starting to clear in Germany, after much waxing and waning over the last few days.
To find the culprit good detective work on what people eat and where they eat has been essential. Sprouts have been added to the lists of suspect foods which included cucumbers and tomatoes. Faecal contamination of sprouts is a common cause of major food outbreaks, as they are not cooked and provide conditions for ready multiplication of bacteria when bean shoots are sprouted.
Furthermore, perceptive comments reported in the New York Times point out that the pattern of disease fits with a contamination source somewhere in the food chain local to the Hamburg region in Germany, and not from outside the country. This could be contamination of beans in the field, [manure on the farm,] contamination from washing water, contamination from infected workers in a processing plant, or from a broken pipe in a water or sewer system. We don’t yet know exactly.
Recent news specifically mentions a particular sprout farm that has now closed. See links at end of this post. Amazingly, the manager of the farm “can’t understand how the processes we have here and the accusations could possibly fit together”. Later news provided by Spiegel online provides strong confirmation that the farm is the culprit:
And there’s another interesting clue emerging from the molecular scientific laboratory work which suggests that the German germ implicated in causing disease has a very similar bacterial relative that has been present in Germany for at at least 10 years. The combination of opportunity for growth of relatively rare German germ that is present in manure and faeces in low quantities, plus local distribution produce to retail outlets in Hamburg explains many features of the outbreak.
Bacterial evolution occurs in real time primarily by gene swapping.
Speculation about whether this is a completely new germ is probably beside the point.Changes to the spectrum of virulence and toxin genes is commonplace in gut bacteria and there are billions of opportunities for this to occur with such large populations of germs, so evolution of new variants occurs at a fast pace in these bacteria. This is nothing new to science, even even if such gene shuffling generates novel combinations of characteristics (see Natural GMOs Part 85 ). That’s just another day at the office for bacteria.
And it’s not mutations. Journalists need to stop mindlessly nattering about mutations when they discuss new germs. A major part of E. coli variation comes from gene exchange between germs, not accidental DNA mutation within a lineage of germs. They mostly take in fresh genes from outside when they evolve.
Reshuffling of genes is thus what E. coli does naturally. An E. coli with a new combination of genes that are present somewhere among gut bacteria is still E. coli, and gene addition to E.coli is a basic fact of life.
Key words: Food chain, Molecular fingerprinting, Contamination, faeces, water, manure, soil , Pathogenic Escherichia coli, EHEC, EAEC, Natural GMO
Collected other relevant press cuttings:
Published: June 3, 2011
Considering the fact that a high numbers of infections that were spread across a single region of one country, the bacterium probably entered the food chain after leaving farms, but before the produce was sold directly to consumers, said Jonathan Fletcher, a senior lecturer in microbiology at the University of Bradford in England.
“The distribution suggests this wasn’t at the point of origin because given the way food chains work these days that means it would have already spread more widely across Europe and possibly the world,” he said. “At the same time, this has already traveled far enough to suggest that not just one stall or supermarket was responsible.”
POSTED BY BILL MARLER ON JUNE 05, 2011
Associated Press reporter Tomislav Skaro reported from Hamburg this morning that the Lower Saxony agriculture ministry was sending an alert Sunday warning people to stop eating the sprouts, which are often used in mixed salads, ministry spokesman Gert Hahne told The Associated Press.
“Bean sprouts have been identified as the product that likely caused the outbreak,” Hahne said. “Many restaurants that suffered from an E. coli outbreak had those sprouts delivered.”
Hahne said the sprouts were grown on a farm in Lower Saxony in northern Germany. He did not elaborate but planned a news conference later Sunday. Hahne said while official test results have not yet conclusively shown that the Lower Saxony-grown sprouts were to blame, “all indications speak to them being” the cause.
However, authorities have kept their warning against eating tomatoes, cucumbers or lettuce.
The head of Germany’s national disease control center raised the death toll to 22 Sunday — 21 people in Germany and one in Sweden — and said another 2,153 people in Germany have been sickened. That figure includes 627 people who have developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome. The World Health Organization said 10 other European nations and the U.S. have reported a total of 90 other victims.
New clues found in tracing the origin of the deadly E coli strain and an appeal for the sharing of additional data
2011-06-05 20:54:46 BGI website
… we are now tracing the history of the bacteria, as this latest analysis indicates that the two German strains (01-09591 originally isolated in 2001 and TY2482 from the 2011 outbreak) have identical profiles for all 12 virulence/fitness genes and 7 MLST housekeeping genes. However, at some point over this 10-year period the new 2011 outbreak strain seems to have developed the ability to resist many additional types of antibiotics. The latest data is now pointing to this candidate, as it now seems the African strain (strain 55989) is genetically more “distant” as the Shiga-toxin-producing gene and tellurite-resistance-genes were shown to be absent. (seeftp://ftp.genomics.org.cn/pub/Ecoli_TY-2482/2011vs2001_v2.xls for our detailed comparison). The utility of so quickly sharing our initial data is further supported as the link to this original strain has already been independently verified by other groups: http://scienceblogs.com/mikethemadbiologist/2011/06/i_dont_think_the_german_e_coli.php). See also ColiScope where the sequence of strain 55989 was first displayed (https://www.genoscope.cns.fr/agc/microscope/mage/viewer.php, with option chromosome EC55989_EC55v2)
Irish Times 7/06/2011
Photo caption Two security guards patrol in front of the organic farm suspected to be the source of the E.coli outbreak that has killed 22 and made more than 2,200 people ill across Europe. Photograph: Fabian Bimmer/Reuters
German scientists were working today to confirm an organic vegetable farm as the source of an outbreak of E.coli bacteria that has killed 22 people and caused a food scare across Europe.
The search for the source of the outbreak is proving very difficult, the Lower Saxony state agriculture ministry said.
E.coli tests on 23 of the 40 samples of beansprouts from the farm in north Germany have proved negative, and the tests are not expected to be completed in the short term, the ministry said in a statement.
The manager of the farm said he could not understand how it could be the source of an infection that is usually transmitted through faeces, or food or water contaminated with faecal bacteria.
The Shiga toxin-producing E.coli (STEC) strain found in this outbreak is known to be able to lurk in cows’ intestines.
“I can’t understand how the processes we have here and the accusations could possibly fit together,” Klaus Verbeck told the regional newspaper Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung….continues.
Netherlands finds E. coli again in beet sprouts; Thailand finds E. coli in European cabbage
Seek and ye shall find.
But countries still won’t test their way to a safe food supply.
Testing is extremely useful for validating safety procedures and to have a sense of what’s out there.
There’s lots of various E. coli out there.
RNW reports for the second time this week the Dutch Food Quality Authority (nVWA) has found sprouts contaminated with the EHEC bacterium, although it is not the O104 variant. A spokesperson for the Authority said on Friday that the beet seed sprouts have been withdrawn from the market on the orders of Health Minister Edith Schippers.
Meanwhile, Thailand said on Saturday that it had detected E. coli in cabbage imported from Europe and was checking whether it was the lethal strain involved in a killer outbreak in northern Germany.
On Friday Thailand said that E. coli found in avocados a day earlier was not the deadly strain that has swept Europe in recent weeks.
Testing has a role — make it meaningful.
Thanks to Andy Apel, other press mentions of a sprout farm:
…if you can make people AFRAID of fresh vegetables — or even outlaw them altogether — then you can force the entire population onto a diet of dead foods and processed foods that promote degenerative disease and bolster the profits of the powerful drug companies.It’s all part of the same agenda, you see: Keep people sick, deny them access to healing herbs and supplements, then profit from their suffering at the hands of the global drug cartels.GMOs play a similar role in all this, of course: They’re designed to contaminate the food supply with genetic code that causes widespread infertility among human beings. And those who are somehow able to reproduce after exposure to GMOs still suffer from degenerative disease that enriches the drug companies from “treatment.”…By the way, the most likely explanation of where this strain of e.coli was bioengineered is that the drug giants came up with it in their own labs. Who else has access to all the antibiotics and equipment needed to manage the targeted mutations of potentially thousands of e.coli colonies? The drug companies are uniquely positioned to both carry out this plot and profit from it. In other words, they have the means and the motive to engage in precisely such actions.Aside from the drug companies, perhaps only the infectious disease regulators themselves have this kind of laboratory capacity. The CDC, for example, could probably pull this off if they really wanted to.The proof that somebody bioengineered this e.coli strain is written right in the DNA of the bacteria. That’s forensic evidence, and what it reveals cannot be denied. This strain underwent repeated and prolonged exposure to eight different classes of antibiotics, and then it somehow managed to appear in the food supply. How do you get to that if not through a well-planned scheme carried out by rogue scientists? There is no such thing as “spontaneous mutation” into a strain that is resistant to the top eight classes of brand-name antibiotic drugs being sold by Big Pharma today. Such mutations have to be deliberate.
Europe’s vaunted ‘farm to fork’ labeling and traceability system, which increases consumer confidence by allowing end user freedom of choice, and tracking to quickly identify and remove from the system any problematic foods, is only applied to GM foods, for which there have never been any documented cases of harm.