Broad and efficient control of major foodborne pathogenic strains of Escherichia coli by mixtures of plant-produced colicins

Steve Schulz, Anett Stephan, Simone Hahn, Luisa Bortesi, Franziska Jarczowski, Ulrike Bettmann, Anne Katrin Paschke, Daniel Tusé, Chad H. Stahl, Anatoli Giritch, Yuri Gleba, Charles J. Arntzen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) is one of the leading causes of bacterial enteric infections worldwide, causing ∼100,000 illnesses, 3,000 hospitalizations, and 90 deaths annually in the United States alone. These illnesses have been linked to consumption of contaminated animal products and vegetables. Currently, other than thermal inactivation, there are no effective methods to eliminate pathogenic bacteria in food. Colicins are nonantibiotic antimicrobial proteins, produced by E. coli strains that kill or inhibit the growth of other E. coli strains. Several colicins are highly effective against key EHEC strains. Here we demonstrate very high levels of colicin expression (up to 3 g/kg of fresh biomass) in tobacco and edible plants (spinach and leafy beets) at costs that will allow commercialization. Among the colicins examined, plant-expressed colicin M had the broadest antimicrobial activity against EHEC and complemented the potency of other colicins. A mixture of colicin M and colicin E7 showed very high activity against all major EHEC strains, as defined by the US Department of Agriculture/Food and Drug Administration. Treatments with low (less than 10 mg colicins per L) concentrations reduced the pathogenic bacterial load in broth culture by 2 to over 6 logs depending on the strain. In experiments using meats spiked with E. coli O157:H7, colicins efficiently reduced the population of the pathogen by at least 2 logs. Plant-produced colicins could be effectively used for the broad control of pathogenic E. coli in both plant- and animal-based food products and, in the United States, colicins could be approved using the generally recognized as safe (GRAS) regulatory approval pathway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E5454-E5460
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number40
StatePublished - Oct 6 2015


  • Antimicrobials
  • Colicin
  • EHEC
  • Food safety
  • Plant-made recombinant proteins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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