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 journalArticleAcademicpeer-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
Pages (from-to)1-30
JournalFEMS Microbiology Reviews
Issue number6
Early online date24 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2022


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


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